By Chris Lang
The Resex Rio Preto-Jacundá REDD+ Project covers an area of 95,300 hectares in the state of Rondônia in Brazil. The project area is an extractive reserve run by 29 families of rubber tappers, the Rio Preto-Jacundá Extractivist Reserve (Reserva Extrativista in Portuguese, or Resex). The extractive reserve was created in 1996. According to the project developer, a Brazilian company called Biofílica Investimentos Ambientais, “the community residents have found in the commercialization of environmental services a solution to promote their social development and conserve their territory”.
The project started in 2012. Companies buying carbon offsets from the project include: carbon and consulting firms (Cool Effect, Climate Neutral Group, Zukunftswerk, KlimaManufaktur, Bearing Point, Avvena); construction firms (Schlagmann Poroton, Wienerberger); a pharmaceutical company (Boehringer Ingelheim); a media conglomerate (Globo Comunicação e Participações); food companies (Danone and IFF Essências e Fragrâncias); accounting firms (Deloitte Brazil, KPMG Brazil); a jet charter firm (Victor); a clothing company (Lojas Renner); and an association of German vineyards (VDP).
A US-based company called Sustainable Travel International sells carbon offsets for US$12.36 each, including from the Resex Rio Preto-Jacundá REDD+ Project. “This community-based project avoids forest loss in the Amazonian ‘Arc of Deforestation’,” the company’s website explains, “by promoting sustainable use of an extractive forest reserve”.
Cool Effect sells carbon offsets from the Resex Rio Preto-Jacundá REDD+ Project. According to Cool Effect’s website,
The project takes several measures to guard against non-permanence including defined field patrols (supported by the sale of carbon credits), regular review of satellite imaging, and improved physical presence.
Elias Ayrey is a remote sensing scientist. Until September 2021, he worked with Pachama, a US-based company that claims to “remotely verify projects, ensuring they follow international standards for carbon credits”.
In December 2021, Ayrey started posting videos on YouTube. His videos explain how remote sensing works, and how forest carbon projects are supposed to work. A few days ago he posted a video about the Jacundá REDD project:
Ayrey looks at the remote sensing data for the project using Google Earth. He starts with an image showing the deforestation in 2012, when the project started. “It’s obviously in an area suffering from intense deforestation,” Ayrey notes.
He moves on to the Project Description Document. The document is 234 pages long. “There are nuclear arms treaties that are less complicated that this REDD+ project,” Ayrey says.
Ayrey analyses the project by looking at five aspects: additionality, baseline, leakage, verification, and permanence. He looks at each one in detail. This post focusses on whether the project succeeded in stopping deforestation inside the project area.
The counterfactual baseline
The Project Description Document includes a series of images mapping out the anticipated “baseline deforestation”. That’s the counterfactual story about what would happen if the project did not exist:
Ayrey explains that the project developers “will not receive credits for every single tree in the project. They are only receiving credits for these red areas, because those are the areas that they thought were at risk.”
Ayrey does not discuss at least two problems with the counterfactual baseline proposed by the project developers:
- The software used to create these baseline maps was Dinamica Ego. Dinamica’s website includes the following statement: “We do not support the application of deforestation modeling to fix REDD baselines for crediting purpose.” In the Project Description Document, the project developers justify the use of the software by referring to the standard setting organisation Verra’s VM0015 method which states (on page 51) that Dinamica Ego is “an appropriate program for REDD projects baseline modeling”.
- As Larry Lohmann, of the UK-based solidarity organisation The Cornerhouse, explains, “The problem is not ‘bad baselines’ but the concept of counterfactual baselines itself.”
At least 10% of the project area deforested
To illustrate the rate of deforestation since the project started, Ayrey shows a an image from Global Forest Watch with deforestation since the project started coloured orange, and deforestation before 2012 coloured blue:
Ayrey explains that,
By 2020, a large section of the project has been deforested. And if we actually calculate the numbers, at least 10% of the project area has been deforested. And this is quite tragic.
The deforestation is remarkably similar to the baseline deforestation from the Project Description Document:
I would say that deforestation equivalent to at least 2022 or 2027 has taken place inside this project. And so this is a major red flag, right? The project, it appears as if it has failed to stop deforestation.
Ayrey uses the data from Global Forest Watch to “crunch the numbers”. Ayrey extracts the numbers from the project developer’s baseline, and the yearly deforestation from Global Forest Watch’s satellite images. He plots the project baseline (yellow) against the actual outcome (blue) and finds that they are remarkably similar:
More than 1.2 million carbon credits issued
In June 2016, Rainforest Alliance produced a Verification Report for the project based on a field audit carried out in November 2015 by Imaflora. The Verification Report concludes that the project “has avoided the emission of 1,346,826 tCO2e in relation to the baseline scenario throughout the first monitoring period”. Of these, 135,301 went into Verra’s “buffer” leaving the project with just over 1.2 million carbon credits to sell.
“Now all those trees are gone,” Ayrey notes. “All those trees that they were basically issued credits for were cut down. Most of this deforestation didn’t happen until after 2015.”
Cool Effect, one of companies selling carbon offsets from the Resex Rio Preto-Jacundá REDD+ Project, last visited the project area in the third quarter of 2021. Cool Effect states that “The forest could be subject to invasion and timber theft,” but makes no mention of the large areas of deforestation that had actually happened within the project area.
Cool Effect reassures potential buyers of carbon offsets from the Resex Rio Preto-Jacundá REDD+ Project by explaining that, “Carbon offsets are purchased ex-post so there is no payment made for areas that have been illegally logged.”
But Cool Effect does not explain what happens when the forest is destroyed shortly after the carbon offsets are issued and sold. The reality is a double whammy for the climate: continued emissions from the firms buying the carbon offsets; plus the emissions from the carbon stored in the now cleared forest.
Verra grants an “exemption request”
The most recent verification audit under the Verra system took place in 2015 – the report was issued in 2016. According to Verra’s rules, the project should be audited every five years.
On 8 September 2021, Plínio Ribeiro, Executive Director of Biofílica, sent an “exemption request” to Verra. And on 30 September 2021, Tanushree Bagh Mukherjee, Senior Program Manager at Verra, replied. Mukherjee granted Biofílica an exemption under the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standard “due to a surge of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Brazil”. The exemption runs until 31 January 2022.
The Verra website makes no mention of when the next Verified Carbon Standard verification might take place. (The 2015 verification audit was both a VCS and CCB audit.)
Too big to fail?
Ayrey looks at this problem from the project developer’s point of view. “This is a mega project, it is literally too big to fail. This would be splashed all over the newspapers if it failed.”
And he speculates about might happen next:
They’re just not going to let this thing fail. So what are the options for the project developer? In the past, one thing that I’ve seen failing projects do is actually redraw their boundaries. So maybe in the next verification . . . they’re just going to redraw the project boundary so that it just goes around and excludes all this new deforestation. And then their new project will be taking place in a smaller area. Yeah, people can do that and they basically just reset the boundaries and they’ll start getting issued credits from that little area until it gets deforested. Then they redraw the boundaries again.
Another popular solution to these kind of problems is, every ten years you’re allowed to redraw the baseline, so you’re allowed to recalculate the baseline. I have no doubt that their baseline is going to go up. They’re going to point to all this deforestation that took place outside the project and they’re going to say, ‘Our baseline was too conservative initially, therefore really double the deforestation would have happened. We are therefore actually owed credits. Even though we haven’t stopped any deforestation.’ They will claim that, ‘Double the deforestation would have happened if the project didn’t exist therefore you need to continue to issue us credits.’
On Verra’s side, there will never be an acknowledgement that this project has failed, that they had to dip into the buffer pool. I don’t think they will dip into the buffer pool, like I said, I think they will cheat in other ways. But Verra doesn’t make it clear when a project has suffered some sort of catastrophic event.
The project is supposed to report to Verra when there has been a catastrophic event. I don’t know if they’ve done that, this is all hush hush, it’s all secret, not public. But there’s no incentives for them to actually report that something has happened.
So that’s the situation with this project. Rio Preto / Jacundá. Don’t buy these credits! They are still on the market. They are going for top dollar. And why not? Because they showed the satellite image from 2012, they don’t show the current date: disaster.