By Chris Lang
The LEAF Coalition (Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance) will sell carbon credits for avoided deforestation. It’s a re-branding of the failed REDD scheme, which has utterly failed either to protect rainforests or to address climate change.
The governments of Norway, the UK, and the US launched the LEAF Coalition on Earth Day, 22 April 2021, at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate. The coalition hopes to “become one of the largest ever public-private efforts to protect tropical forests”. Companies involved include Amazon, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, E-on, PwC, Delta Airlines, Unilever, Salesforce, McKinsey, Nestlé, Airbnb, and Boston Consulting Group.
A company called Emergent coordinates the LEAF Coalition and acts as a “market intermediary between forest jurisdictions and corporate buyers” of carbon credits, Eron Bloomgarden, CEO of Emergent, explains in a recent Emergent promotional video. Environmental Defense Fund set up Emergent in 2019.
The LEAF Coalition “aims to mobilise very large scale finance to protect tropical forests, starting with a commitment of US$1 billion,” Bloomgarden says.
LEAF Coalition and ART TREES
The carbon credits that the LEAF Coalition will sell will be verified to the ART TREES standard. The Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART) was established in 2018 to produce a standard for jurisdictional REDD credits. The standard is called TREES – “the REDD+ Environmental Excellence Standard.” Recently, ART published the second version of the standard, TREES 2.0.
Needless to say, ART is funded by the Norwegian government. Oil money, in other words.
The LEAF Coaltion claims to have received 30 proposals from sub-national governments, covering a total area of more than 500 million hectares. On its website the LEAF Coalition lists 23 countries and jurisdictions that have submitted proposals and “have successfully completed an initial technical screening process led by a panel of technical experts”:
Acre (Brazil); Amapá (Brazil); Amazonas (Brazil); Burkina Faso; Costa Rica; Ecuador; Ghana; Guyana; Jalisco (Mexico); Kenya; Maranhão (Brazil); Mato Grosso (Brazil); Nepal; Nigeria; Papua New Guinea; Para (Brazil); Province of Tshuapa (DRC); Quintana Roo (Mexico); Roraima (Brazil); Tocantins (Brazil); Uganda; Vietnam, and Zambia.
The LEAF Coalition is planning to make an announcement about billions of dollars of corporate funding during COP26, the UN climate meeting in Glasgow.
LEAF Coalition’s “carbon grab”
In an article on YaleEnvironment360, Fred Pearce writes that, “some land-rights activists say LEAF threatens to create a global ‘carbon grab,’ in which governments and corporations take carbon rights in forests from Indigenous people and local communities”.
Andy White, a senior adviser at the Rights and Resources Initiative told Pearce that, “The nub of the issue is that LEAF further incentivizes governments to assert state ownership over carbon rights [and] capture the benefits of the trade.”
Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute, chairs the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions board. She told Pearce that the rules in the TREES standard “represent an opportunity to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples and other local communities.”
But under the TREES rules, the minimum area to qualify for generating carbon credits is 2.5 million hectares. As Tom Younger of Forest Peoples Programme points out, this scale “makes LEAF mostly accessible only to states that can claim large areas of forests as state lands.”
Indigenous Peoples’ territories are excluded from the most recent version of the TREES standard. In a recent commentary, Alain Frechette of the Rights and Resources Initiative writes that,
A line-by-line comparison between TREES 2.0 and its earlier version shows very little has changed, except for one major shift: jurisdictional crediting opportunities for Indigenous Peoples’ land areas was dropped altogether.
Frechette adds that,
[L]ands and forests that are legally owned or designated for Indigenous Peoples and local communities are, for lack of a better term, “protected” and thus unappealing to climate investors.
Frechette also points out that TREES 2.0 fails to ensure compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And the standard does not require legal recognition of communities’ customary land and the carbon stored in their forests. “If a government is legally compliant with established laws, it may legally claim ownership rights to all ERRs [emission reductions and removals],” Frechette writes.
Frechette argues that the money invested in the LEAF coalition is unlikely to reach Indigenous Peoples and communities living in the forests:
As investments from voluntary markets, results-based payments, and offsets begin to flood the land and forest sectors of developing countries with well-established power structures and preexisting transparency and corruption challenges, evidence to date suggests that these capital flows are unlikely to trickle down to those most in need. As we all know, money is the one thing that defies the laws of gravity, and there is nothing in the framing of LEAF or ART-TREES that suggests a change in this paradigm.
Delta Airlines’ corporate greenwashing
Delta Airlines is one of the biggest airline companies in the world. In February 2020, Delta announced that from 1 March 2020 the company would be “carbon neutral”. Delta will do so by buying carbon credits to offset its 40 million tons of CO2 emissions a year. Between 2013 and 2018, Delta bought almost 9 million carbon offsets. To “offset” its emission from March to December 2020, Delta bought 13 million carbon credits at a cost of more than US$30 million.
In the Emergent promotional video Amelia De Luca, Managing Director – Sustainability, at Delta explains why the company is part of the LEAF Coalition:
LEAF has been an area, a coalition, that I have been focussed on. I took my role in Delta about six months ago, and very quickly met Eron and the team, just absolutely loved what they’re doing.
And so we’ve been hard at work to make sure we can join the coalition, and I think stepping back for a second, Delta committed to carbon neutrality from March 2020 onward, and that’s a commitment that we have made and we’ve actually executed on despite the hardships of the pandemic. And it’s not an easy commitment for us, we are a hard to abate sector and so while we look at clean efficiency, the renewables, and operational improvements, and you know the scaling of sustainable aviation fuel, the real lever that we have at least over the next decade, but even beyond that is going to be nature-based solutions.
And so getting to have a seat at the table with players like LEAF, that are really advancing carbon offsets and helping to scale them and bringing, you know, new elements to add to the integrity of the process is exactly what Delta wanted to do.
That, you know, carbon offsets for us is what allows us to take action now as an airline and we don’t want to sit back and wait until the technologies of the future arrive, we want to take action now because we don’t want our consumers to have to choose between seeing the world and saving the world. And so again, LEAF affords an amazing opportunity to really advance those causes.
Between 2013 and 2018, Delta bought almost 9 million carbon offsets. To “offset” its emission from March to December 2020, Delta bought 13 million carbon credits at a cost of more than US$30 million. The LEAF Coaltion is promising REDD programmes covering vast areas of land and generating very large numbers of carbon offsets. No wonder Delta and other Big Polluters like the LEAF Coalition.
DeLuca sees flying as something to be encouraged:
Travel really is what is going to fuel economies and fuel you know societies that are coming up in you know developing nations and it’s what connects us on innovation and all the technology that’s going to come behind the work with climate change right. Aviation and travel is just so critical and essential to kind of life and where life is going that I think no one would ever say that we shouldn’t be travelling.
Is it really possible that DeLuca has never heard of Greta Thunberg or flygskam? Or that she’s completely unaware, for example, of a UK YouGov poll in September 2019 found that two-thirds of people believed that flying should be restricted? Or the Stay Grounded Network, or the Flying Less petition, or Greenpeace, or Plane Stupid, or Extinction Rebellion?
DeLuca even acknowledges that aviation is likely to grow in the future to reach somewhere between 10 and 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Her solution? More offsets.
And that’s where the LEAF Coalition comes in: Providing greenwash for Big Polluters.