By Chris Lang
An Indian company called Kanaka Management Systems has plans to set up a REDD project covering an area of more than 72 million hectares in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In April 2022, NGOs working in DRC wrote to DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development raising serious concerns about KMS’s project. Verra, the Washington DC-based standards setting organisation for offsetting projects, rejected the project in September 2021. Yet in a response to the NGO letter, KMS repeatedly described the project as “the Verra VCS REDD+ project 2320”.
I asked Steve Zwick, Senior Manager, Media Relations at Verra some questions in order to clarify the status of the KMS REDD project in DRC. His answers are posted here in full and unedited:
REDD-Monitor: In April 2022, a group of NGOs wrote to Eva Bazaiba, DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development about KMS’s proposed REDD project in the country. I posted the letter on REDD-Monitor on 28 April 2022. KMS responded on 2 May 2022. In its response, KMS refers to the project as “the Verra VCS REDD+ project 2320”. Yet Verra rejected the project in September 2021. Will Verra take any action against KMS for this misleading description of the project?
Steve Zwick, Verra: Verra became aware of misleading statements on KMS’s website in March, 2022 and asked KMS to cease and desist the use of “Verra”, “Verified Carbon Standard,” or “VCS” in its descriptions. They did comply, but we weren’t aware of the letters you mentioned until now. Therefore, Verra is asking KMS to cease and desist the use of these terms in any project descriptions, including in letters of this nature. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
REDD-Monitor: Please explain exactly why Verra rejected the project.
Steve Zwick, Verra: We rejected this project at the earliest possible stage – the pipeline listing stage – because it did not conform to our program requirements.
REDD-Monitor: In its response, KMS states that the “project audit is temporarily stopped by Honorable Ministry for completing some harmonization elements.” Could you please clarify whether Verra has rejected the project, or whether the audit is temporarily on hold.
Steve Zwick, Verra: The project has been rejected, not temporarily halted. If KMS wants to develop a project, they would have to start the process again, which essentially means creating a new project.
REDD-Monitor: Of course if Verra made a clear statement on the VCS Project Database about why the project had been rejected that would prevent KMS from making misleading statements about the status of the project (or at least make such statements even less credible). Why doesn’t Verra do this? Instead, the VCS Project Database gives 269 words of project description (presumably written by KMS). This project description includes the misleading statements that, “The project progresses on substantial co-benefits with Climate, Community, and Biodiversity performing at VERRA VCS CCB triple gold level” and “The Project has obtained all relevant formal written approvals of different levels from the National Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development Kinshasa, such as homologation certificates, attestation identification certificates, conformity certificates, environmental clearance certificate, harmonized CN REDD+ certificates including a ruling on the sharing of carbon credits income among the stakeholders.” Countering this misleading information are only three words in the side bar: “Rejected by Administrator”.
Steve Zwick, Verra: The registry was originally established as a technical platform to provide a repository of documents and means of tracking ownership of credits, not as a vehicle for advertising projects. Given the recent surge of interest in voluntary carbon markets, Verra recognizes the need to more clearly identify the status of projects for a broader audience. Verra has initiated work on this. Incidentally, Verra has already begun digitizing its project development processes, which will make the registry more user-friendly.
REDD-Monitor: Why does the VCS Project Database give the following information for the project proponent, when KMS’s registered office is in Bengaluru, India?
Kanaka Management Services Pvt. Ltd
London, United Kingdom
(+44) 20 7556 7057
And why is Alfred Men of Arreon given as a contact person?
Steve Zwick, Verra: This was an error related to the integration of pre-existing registries. It only affected the project summary and has now been corrected.
REDD-Monitor: KMS set up a project website in October 2021, after Verra had rejected the project. Until very recently, the website included the statement that, “The project progresses on substantial co-benefits with Climate, Community, and Biodiversity performing at VERRA VCS CCB triple gold level.” (This archived version shows that the statement was still there as recently as 15 April 2022.) And KMS is not developing a different REDD project in DRC. The documents available on the project website give the same Project ID (2320), the same project area, and appear to be versions of the CCB documents that are available on the VCS Project Database. Many of the contracts that KMS got communities to sign are dated December 2021, three months after Verra had rejected the project. Does Verra have any plans to take any action against KMS for misleading communities into believing that Verra had not already rejected the project?
Steve Zwick, Verra: Verra will ask KMS to cease and desist any actions that may mislead communities into thinking that Verra has not already rejected the project. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.
REDD-Monitor: On each page of its project website, KMS has now posted a statement saying “This REDD+ Project has not been approved by Verra – March 2022”. That is also misleading, because it gives the impression that Verra might approve the project in the future, when in fact Verra has already rejected the project. In order to reflect the actual status of the project, will Verra ask KMS to change the statement on its website to read “Verra rejected this REDD+ Project in September 2021”?
Steve Zwick, Verra: Yes, we will ask for a more direct statement explicitly stating that the project has been rejected.