Carbon Projects Scam? Study Finds Removals Triple Overstated!

US based researchers report that carbon removals have been exaggerated 2.6 times with far greater accountability and governance required to operate schemes.

Tue 27 Feb 24


Reforestation alone cannot offset the amount of carbon produced by cutting trees, with new research claiming that planting initiatives could exaggerate the carbon removal threefold.

That is according to Professor. Runsheng Yin, from Michigan State University, said tree planting initiatives must be held to far greater scrutiny, “ensuring that C02 outputs are properly offset.”

“Nations, corporations, and individuals worldwide are turning to nature-based solutions to offset their greenhouse gas emissions – often investing heavily in reforestation and afforestation strategies,” Professor Yin said.

Reforestation initiatives – where large organisations invest in carbon offset initiatives – are now big business, with the governance and efficiency of the initiatives coming under increased public scrutiny. 

In October, Wood Central reported that Origin Energy, KPMG, Fraser Property and Zoos Victoria are among a raft of Australian businesses exposed to a failed REDD+ project in Zimbabwe – with up to 3 million carbon credits squandered on a major tree planting schemes that were unable to get off the ground.

Verra Carbon Projects have been scrutinised, with The Guardian reporting that 90% of Verra projects were overissuing carbon credits. Footage courtesy of @Carbonomix

“While vital, these schemes are not going to be enough to remove the amount of carbon created by making timber – and the results won’t come fast enough to counteract the amount of carbon created by cutting down the trees in the first place,” according to Professor Yin who added that as “tree-planting becomes increasingly monetised, it is crucial that the accounting is done accurately.”

The central problem, according to Professor Lin, is that modelling does not thoroughly examine what happens to timber after trees have been logged:

“The amount of time it takes for carbon to return to the atmosphere after logging varies according to the wood products created, such as furniture, plywood, or paper.”

He said each degrades at different rates, “meaning this needs to be recorded properly so that carbon offset credits can be calculated accurately.”

In his latest research, ‘Global Forest Carbon: Policy, Economics, and Finance’, Professor Li claims that the reason accuracy is so important here is a result of how severe the climate crisis has become.

“The climate crisis is heightening, with 2023 representing the warmest year on record,” he said, adding that “the 1.5 degrees global warming limit set out in the Paris Agreement is perilously close to being breached.”

“While nature-based solutions have an essential role in helping us stem the worst impacts of climate change, my research shows that the potential of forest carbon offsetting may not be as great as some analysts have claimed.”

“This is because existing studies have failed to conform to the accounting principles of the Paris Agreement; therefore, rigorous methods to offset and reduce greenhouse gas emissions has never been more urgent.”

Professor Lin is now urging companies to employ more rigorous accounting and assessments for forestation schemes, “this will include properly considering what happens to timber after it has been logged and calculating how long before the carbon stored in the resulting wood products will return to the atmosphere.”

Professor Lin is also encouraging greater national and international involvement so that these schemes can have the most significant impact possible.

“Local schemes to offset carbon are critical but must be nested within overarching jurisdictional approaches, led by governments, and in line with their international climate pledges.”

The push for investment in carbon offsetting comes after a long-awaited deal on carbon trading mechanisms evaporated under Dubai’s desert sun at crucial COP28 meetings late last year.

The IMF, World Bank, and WTO had hoped to formalise the new international carbon market as part of the COP28 discussions – footage courtesy of @EuropeanCommission.

In December, Wood Central said that countries disagreed on the fundamental rules to trade offsets bilaterally and to kickstart the UN-sanctioned market – which could pave the way for global governments to drive carbon investment into publicly owned forests.

Whereas the US championed a “light-touch, no-frills” approach, with the market fuelled by the private sector in the voluntary market, the EU – backed by Latin America and Africa – wants a “compliance market” focus with more vigorous checks and balances and a “loosening of confidential clauses”, which could prevent scrutiny.

Countries will now reconvene in Baku, Azerbaijan, later this year, with key players hopeful that a deal can be reached at COP29.


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