Offset giant ditches flagship project as countries gear up for carbon markets at COP28

Kariba REDD+ carbon offset project in Zimbabwe.
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The world’s leading seller of carbon offsets has ditched its flagship project. On Friday October 27, carbon offset company South Pole announced it was pulling out of a major forest conservation project in Zimbabwe.

The company’s withdrawal comes as nations gear up to iron out details for states to enter the carbon offset market.

Company pulls the plug on major carbon offset project

South Pole has exited its Kariba REDD+ forest conservation mega-project in Zimbabwe. REDD+ refers to projects designed for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Project partner and operator Carbon Green Africa described it as:

a forest conservation project aimed at providing sustainable livelihood opportunities for poor communities in Northern Zimbabwe, a region now suffering heavily from forest deforestation, land degradation, poverty and drought.

However, investigative outlet Follow The Money previously found that the company overestimated the carbon savings from the project. The media site followed this up with another damning report on 16 October 2023. In this, it highlighted that the project has facilitated trophy hunting in the reserve. Of course, it pointed out that this is counter to the project’s purported wildlife protection aims.

Amid these allegations, the world’s leading carbon offset certifier Verra, suspended the project on 17 October.

Read on...

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Moreover, the forest project isn’t the only controversial carbon offset scheme. Several scientific studies and investigative reports have questioned individual projects and the credibility of the lucrative voluntary market as a whole.

For example, a report by the Rainforest Foundation UK in July raised a litany of problems with forest carbon offsetting schemes. In particular, as the Canary noted, it found that:

These programmes have failed to stop rampant deforestation, while giving the green light to extractive industries to wreak climate chaos.

Carbon offset markets at COP28

However, despite the numerous reports exposing the pitfalls of the carbon market, countries are set to double down on it at the upcoming climate conference in Dubai.

Nations will finalise a key element of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Specifically, they will review the details of Article 6. This aspect of the Paris Agreement authorises mechanisms for voluntary “cooperation” between countries – and private companies – to achieve promised emissions reductions.

In particular, it permits a country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions beyond its national target by trading its “surplus” reductions with another country.

The article allows for public and private entities to “contribute” through projects that foster “sustainable development”. These projects could for example combat deforestation or replace coal-fuelled power plants with renewable sources.

The schemes provide countries with a carbon credit in exchange for every tonne of CO2 kept out of, or removed, from the atmosphere. However, critics see the mechanism as a free pass for countries to avoid reducing their own emissions.

The supervisory body that nations created during COP26 in 2021 has to iron out the details of this market in early November. It will present these plans to COP28 in Dubai later the same month. That plan could pave the way for the large-scale implementation of such mechanisms by the beginning of 2024.

Countries jump on the carbon offset bandwagon

Several countries are ready to go. Switzerland, an early adopter, has already closed 13 agreements. These span countries across Africa, South America, Asia and even Ukraine.

It plans to fund wood stove replacements in Ghana and Peru, and renewable energy infrastructure. However, an investigation by Climate Home News in August found that a similar cooking stove replacement scheme in India had produced millions of junk carbon offset credits.

Meanwhile, multiple reports have questioned the integrity of renewable energy offsets. Research by the Guardian and campaign group Corporate Accountability in September found that 15 of the top renewable energy offset projects are likely bogus.

Moreover, just because a project is renewable, it does not ensure that companies will implement it ethically. An investigation by the Canary previously identified the human rights violations of multiple renewable energy projects.

Notably, the UN has listed some of these projects on the carbon market. For instance, this includes the La Mata – La Ventosa wind farm in Mexico. The UN offered carbon credits for this particular project through Article 6’s predecessor under the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Meanwhile, the CDM also hosts the Lake Turkana wind project in Kenya. As a result, these have generated carbon credits that nations and companies can purchase to offset their own emissions.

Big polluters outsourcing emissions and impacts

Another emerging player in the carbon offset market is COP28 host the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Blue Carbon, a company with ties to the UAE ruling family, has signed a number of offset agreements with a number of African nations.

However, as the Canary previously highlighted, the company will gobble up vast tracts of land across the continent. For example, in August it signed two such agreements with Liberia and Zimbabwe. Notably, these signed over close to 10% and 20% of their respective land areas for carbon offset projects.

Meanwhile, other big polluters have also been sizing up the carbon credit markets. Indonesia, the largest exporter of coal, launched its carbon emissions credit trading in September. And Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of crude oil, announced an “Article 6-aligned” scheme earlier this month.

Ultimately, investigations have repeatedly exposed the dubious claims of carbon offsetting schemes. South Pole’s exit from the Kariba REDD+ project should serve as a cautionary tale. Instead, Article 6 will enable fossil fuel-wedded and wealthy nations to shirk decarbonisation at home.

As a result, rich nations will hit countries in the Global South twice with their soaring greenhouse gas emissions. They will continue to impact communities in those countries by failing to truly curb emissions and exacerbating the climate crisis. At the same time, these rich nations will burden communities in the Global South by outsourcing their emissions through these harmful projects.

In short, it’s another recipe for more green-grabbing, greenwashing, and delaying concrete action to tackle climate breakdown.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.

Feature image via South Pole/Youtube screengrab.

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  • Show Comments
    1. It has been obvious to me for a very long time that most of these “carbon offsetting schemes” are a grand scam – invented by the PR experts of the rich countries to maintain their dominance of the world’s energy markets at the expense of the Global South and the world’s poor.
      Thanks Canary for an article that is long-overdue.

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