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Guardian Assessment of Verra Projects Critiqued

The following article was written by ClimatePartner:

Three studies, three different results. In their reporting on the effectiveness of Verra certified REDD+ projects in January 2023, The Guardian, DIE ZEIT, and SourceMaterial focus on negative study results, even though these are also countered by positive evaluations in the research cited. This is what our results show after Climate Partner analysed the studies.

To responsibly follow up on the journalists' criticism of the effectiveness of REDD+ projects, we have founded our own task force. This team has analysed the studies cited and is carrying out a detailed in-depth screening of the projects mentioned that are also included in ClimatePartner’s portfolio. Even though this process is still ongoing, we would like to share some insight into the first valid results of our analysis and also invite objective, professional discourse.

The results so far show that the three studies come to different conclusions. Only the most critical study is referred to in the journalistic exaggeration, for example to reach the conclusion that 94% of REDD+ projects are ineffective. The other studies, which come to different and partly positive results, are hardly mentioned. Nor does the journalist´s reporting include a detailed technical assessment of the different methodologies on which the studies are based. For example, no actual data from the project and reference areas are used, which can lead to misinterpretations.

With all due respect to journalistic processes, from our point of view there is something more important to consider: Together, we should be ensuring that the voluntary market for CO2 emission reductions works as effectively as possible and improve it where necessary. This is precisely why scientific discourse and factual, detailed analysis are so important. We have compiled our findings on the studies and look forward to further support from the scientific community. This discourse can provide solutions to keep strengthening climate action.

At the same time, Verra, the standard that was in the centre of the criticism by the team of journalists in the reporting, has also subjected the aforementioned studies to a review. You can also find this analysis below.

The following studies were cited by The Guardian and DIE ZEIT:​​

West et al. (2020)

  • Study: The study by West et al. (2020) conduct a systematic comparison of deforestation baselines (ex-ante) with counterfactual estimates of deforestation by looking at REDD+ projects in the Brazilian amazon.​ ​

  • Method: Synthetic control method ​ ​

  • Approach: West et al. (2020) use georeferenced property boundaries (held in Brazil’s Rural Environmental Registry) as well as biophysical data to construct synthetic controls. ​ ​

  • Projects: The study analyses 12 projects in the Brazilian amazon. 4 of these projects are part of ClimatePartner’s portfolio. West et al. (2020) come to a positive conclusion for only one of the 12 projects analysed.​ ​

  • Main Findings: The study finds no significant evidence, that REDD+ projects have mitigated forest loss. Leakage may have occurred in 3 projects. West et al. (2020) criticise the use of historical data for baseline calculations.​ A detailed ClimatePartner analysis of the study can be found here.

Guizar-Coutiño et al. (2022)

  • Study: The study by Guizar-Coutiño et. al., (2022), conducted a global evaluation on the efficacy of REDD+ projects in particularly reducing deforestation and degradation in moist tropics.​

  • Method: Pixel-matching method​

  • Approach: Pixels are used as unit of analysis; this allowed the authors to restrict deforestation and degradation estimation to forests that were standing at the time of project implementation (in line with VCS requirements).

  • Projects: This study analysed 40 REDD+ projects selected for this study located in 9 countries. 11 projects out of this 40 are part of the ClimatePartner portfolio. Among the 11 projects in the ClimatePartner portfolio the authors find positive analysis results for 10 projects regarding deforestation and for 11 projects regarding degradation.

  • Main Findings: The study concludes that incentivizing forest conservation through voluntary site-based projects can slow tropical deforestation and highlights the particular importance of prioritizing financing for areas at greater risk of deforestation.​ A detailed ClimatePartner analysis of the study can be found here.

West et al. (2023)

  • Study: The study by West et al. (2023) conducts a systematic comparison of deforestation baselines (ex-ante) with counterfactual estimates of deforestation by looking at 27 REDD+ projects across 6 countries.

  • Method: Synthetic control method ​ ​

  • Approach: Synthetic controls were constructed based on control areas exposed to similar levels of deforestation pressure and similar characteristics as the chosen REDD+ projects.

  • Projects: The study analyses 27 projects in total. During the course of the study, 9 projects were discarded for various reasons. It included overall 7 projects from the ClimatePartner portfolio, where 4 had to be discarded during the course of the study.​

Main Findings: Only a minority of the evaluated projects significantly reduced deforestation compared to the control sites. Adopting dynamics approaches would likely reduce additionality problems.

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