Carbon credits: towards net zero or zero credibility? | Letters

Avoided deforestation should not be used as a basis for creating carbon credits, says David Humphreys, while Paul Steele and Anna Ducros introduce biocredits and Dirk Forrister defends current methodologies

Your articles accurately identify the problem of “phantom credits” in carbon offset projects (Revealed: more than 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by biggest provider are worthless, analysis shows, 18 January; Shell to spend $450m on carbon offsetting as fears grow that credits may be worthless, 19 January). When such credits are sold within offset schemes they in effect legitimise additional carbon emissions that contribute to global heating.

In particular there is an inherent flaw in offset projects based on avoided deforestation. In principle the idea of avoided deforestation is sound. Forest owners and forested countries in the global south should be financially incentivised to reduce their deforestation beneath an agreed baseline rate.

But to use avoided deforestation as a basis for creating carbon credits lets greenhouse gas emitters claim they are contributing to net zero emissions. In reality, avoided deforestation projects only maintain existing carbon stock capacity in forests. They do not add to this capacity, hence cannot offset additional emissions. Carbon offset projects only make sense when net forest cover is increased. Until that happens, the carbon offset market is not a case of net zero emissions but of zero credibility.
David Humphreys
Emeritus professor of environmental policy, Open University

• The shortcomings of carbon offsets also hold true for biodiversity offsets, which have been promoted as a way of saving forests. But there’s a new kid on the block – biocredits, a new kind of financial asset identified as units of biodiversity that are measurable and traceable and so can be traded and sold to individuals, corporates and government. They can be a positive investment in improved conservation in ways that also benefit Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Our research shows that pilot schemes for biocredits are emerging all over the world, but need to avoid the setbacks faced by carbon credit and carbon offset markets, specifically in making sure the metrics they use to define a unit of biodiversity include its social and cultural value. The United Nations is facilitating the development of a standard methodology, as are certifiers Plan Vivo, Verra and Gold Standard. This all bodes well for the rapid implementation of a mechanism with the potential to save the world’s forests.
Paul Steele and Anna Ducros
International Institute for Environment and Development

Your article (18 January) cites academics who take issue with highly technical elements of the methodologies used to determine the amount of emissions reductions by projects that avoid deforestation and forest degradation to generate carbon credits. But many other experts support the current technical elements. The article did not fairly represent the views of both sides. Debates among scientists risk being misunderstood and taken out of context by the wider community, with unintended consequences. This is of particular concern when the science is not yet peer-reviewed, as is the case of the research that the article heavily relies on.

Achieving the Paris climate agreement’s net zero goal requires the rapid expansion of carbon markets. Carbon credit standards organisations, such as Verra, provide the science-based methodologies that drive quality, action and supply within voluntary carbon markets. All new methodologies are open to public consultation, where scientific input is considered – and where critics should present their views.
Dirk Forrister
President and CEO, International Emissions Trading Association

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Can we humans save ourselves from self-destruction? | Letters
Letters: Richard Middleton, Robin Russell-Jones, Judith Wright, Tom Fyans, Richard Aldwinckle, John Nissen, and Mayer Hillman respond to the latest dire warnings from scientists and policymakers on biodiversity and climate change


07, May, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Farming, biodiversity and a heather warning | Letters
Letters: Readers grapple with farming’s aim to become carbon neutral, tree generation as a way to achieve biodiversity, the fate of heather, the Drax power station, and Tesla moving to third place for UK car sales


10, Sep, 2019 @5:04 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on carbon offsetting: an overhaul is overdue | Editorial
Editorial: The industry has not delivered what it promised, and critics are right to be sceptical


02, Apr, 2023 @5:30 PM

Article image
Practical problems with personal carbon allowances | Letters
Letters: Prof Alan McKinnon writes that it remains very difficult to measure emissions at a product level; Colin Challen believes that politicians have to be much more upfront about the changes we need to make


04, Nov, 2021 @6:22 PM

Article image
Carbon offsets are a licence to pollute | Letters
Letters: Ecosystem protection must become the default, not the add-on, writes Dr Phil Williamson, while Richard Middleton says the concept of offsetting itself is the problem

24, Jan, 2023 @6:14 PM

Article image
Ethical carbon offsetting has a role to play in tackling the climate crisis | Letters
Letters: Prof Mark Huxham and Mukti Kumar Mitchell on concerns about the viability of carbon offsets in response to an article by George Monbiot. Plus Barbara Foster and MSR Seshu on the climate implications of flights


31, Jan, 2022 @6:14 PM

Article image
After coronavirus, focus on the climate emergency | Letters
Letters: Signatories including Dr Wolfgang Knorr say it is game over for preventing dangerous climate change, Colin Hines says a green infrastructure should be prioritised in a post-Covid-19 world, and Andy Radford on why we should consider permanent changes to the way we live


10, May, 2020 @4:18 PM

Article image
The 1.5C global heating target is more than just a number | Letters
Letters: Neil Blackshaw laments those who dismiss expert advice on the climate crisis, while Aaron Turpin urges individuals to take responsibility


16, Sep, 2022 @4:25 PM

Article image
A warning on climate and the risk of societal collapse | Letter
Letter: Scientists and academics including Prof Gesa Weyhenmeyer and Prof Will Steffen argue that we must discuss the threat of societal disruption in order to prepare for it


06, Dec, 2020 @4:48 PM

Article image
Aviation industry must get real about emissions | Letters
Letters: Chris Preist calculates the scale of the carbon challenge, John Chapman calls for urgent regulation, Kim Hoare says we cannot carry on taking flights as and when we wish and Michael Miller says flying is unavoidably energy-intensive


01, Jul, 2019 @4:29 PM