“Patently Unreliable”: Verra addresses criticism of rainforest offset credits with detailed technical analysis

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — An article published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper on 18 January 2023 includes numerous inaccuracies and distortions that misrepresent the activities of Verra, a non-profit organization that operates standards in environmental and social markets, to address deforestation in tropical forest countries.

These are the findings published today in a Technical Review conducted by Verra’s most senior experts, who have assessed the article and the three studies on which it draws.

They found that the Guardian article makes sensational claims about the value of carbon credits issued by Verra for rainforest offset projects, also known as REDD projects. These claims have been echoed by other media, such as Die Zeit.

The Technical Review has found that the Guardian article and two of the three studies, each led by the same scientist from the University of Amsterdam, Dr Thales West, are “patently unreliable” because they contain multiple serious deficiencies.

The experts found that the Guardian article relies on an arbitrary and unpublished methodology using results from the Thales West et al. studies, and grossly misrepresents the findings of the third study by scientists from the University of Cambridge (Guizar-Coutiño et al.).

The University of Cambridge study concluded: “Our results provide some room for optimism. Despite the many challenges to just and economically sustainable implementation, the initial wave of REDD+ projects were effective at reducing forest loss.” The Guardian failed to mention this conclusion in its reporting. Instead, the study was presented as critical of REDD projects.

The article’s claims about the value of carbon credits, the experts found, were based only on the Thales West et al. studies. The Review found these studies used datasets known to be unsuitable, relied on inappropriate geographic areas, and ignored key factors known to cause deforestation.

It also showed that the article was misleading because it failed to acknowledge inconsistencies between the three studies that it draws on, presenting instead a distorted picture of consensus. Verra’s experts found, for example, that of the 12 projects in Brazil assessed by both groups, one Thales West study concluded that deforestation or degradation was reduced in 33% of projects, while the Cambridge study found that deforestation was lower in 92% and forest degradation in 75% of projects.

Robin Rix, Chief Legal, Policy, and Markets Officer, Verra, said:

“Verra, while generally reluctant to comment on individual academic works, felt it necessary to address the many distortions flowing from these analyses. We welcome academic scrutiny, but our Technical Review highlights the risks of trying to oversimplify a complex process and cherrypicking findings.

Verra is absolutely committed to developing and enforcing the highest standards for climate and sustainable development projects, including projects that protect the world’s tropical forests.

Avoiding deforestation is vital to climate action, and REDD has been one of the most successful means of combating it to date. The world needs to rally around, and work collaboratively to improve REDD, if we believe in climate action, protecting biodiversity, and sustaining local communities.”

Verra invites stakeholders including the media to read the Technical Review and to reach out if they have concerns about reports in the media.

Verra is a nonprofit organization that operates the world’s leading carbon crediting program, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program, as well as other standards programs in environmental and social markets. Verra is committed to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve livelihoods, and protect natural resources by working with the private and public sectors. We support climate action and sustainable development with standards, tools, and programs that credibly, transparently, and robustly assess environmental and social impacts and enable funding for sustaining and scaling up projects that verifiably deliver these benefits.