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Our Support for Verra Projects

In a recent article, The Guardian critiqued the carbon offsetting projects supplied by Verra within the REDD+ framework. These projects aim to Reduce Degradation and Deforestation of tropical rainforests. The plus symbol references the additional features of these projects, such as biodiversity conservation activity.

Carbon offsetting projects are indeed science-based. In the case of tropical forest protection, however, they are also social science-based. Why? Ultimately, calculations aim to project changes to human behaviour. In particular, changes that will reduce the risk of illegal logging in areas of high-grade, virgin forest. This range of human behaviour being projected can relate, for example, to:

o The impact of increased legal protections for rainforest

o The impact of increased patrols by forest rangers

o The strength of in-country governance regimes which target illegal logging

o Efficacy of local educational programmes regarding the value of tropical forest

o Uptake of sustainable energy initiatives that reduce fire-wood collection

o Uptake of sustainable agriculture methods to reduce wholesale slash and burn

To draw an analogy, similar challenges existed when scientists worked to model the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Their calculations used variables to predict human behaviour. To what extent would people willingly stay at home? Once society was reopened, would the public effectively socially distance? How quickly would vaccines be created and rolled out? What percentage of the country would get vaccinated? After the fact, some critiqued the UK Government for building temporary hospitals that in the event were not needed. However, those hospitals were built as human behaviour was not fully predictable. Those who do not understand the scientific process have accused public health scientists of lying. They were not lying. Rather, they were projecting human behaviour which is inherently tricky.

On a macro-scale, the same issue of human behaviour modelling affects projections of Climate Change itself. Likewise, when it comes to long-term projections on the efficacy of tropical forest protection, it is social science that endeavours to predict human behaviour.

The heart of the debate comes from Yadvinder Malhi at the University of Oxford - 'The challenge isn’t around measuring carbon stocks; it’s about reliably forecasting the future and what would have happened in the absence of the REDD+ activity.'....

Our view at Highland Carbon is that it is an imperative to endeavour to protect tropical rainforests. Humanity has no future on earth without tropical forests. They are the lungs of the planet and vital to mitigating Climate Change. They are the most biodiverse ecosystems on land by far, and they are under the greatest threat from both illegal logging and being slashed and burned as land is converted to grazing. It is important for client businesses and companies working in the land economy to continue to support tropical forest protection. Project Developers, like Verra, are continually scrutenising their modelling and their ability to project the impact of REDD+ schemes will continue to improve as their learning grows over time.

Finally a word of reassurance on the carbon credits themselves. The credits are not being clawed back from these projects. Any credits that have been issued to buyers of Verra offsets have already been retired on behalf of those businesses.

Below is a set of links to articles that challenge the article in The Guardian:

The science behind the Guardian piece is fatally flawed | Everland

Sylvera response to The Guardian’s Analysis of Rainforest Offsets

Ecologi’s response to The Guardian investigation into Verra | Ecologi

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