The Guardian is a publication that has had a profound impact over the decades. We are writing because we believe it has gone dangerously off track when it comes to reporting on the voluntary carbon market (VCM) in general and our organization, Verra, in particular.
At Verra, we welcome thoughtful and balanced critiques and are committed to continuous improvement, as evidenced by the regular updating of our landmark Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program. We always challenge our methods and are happy to engage with the data, reconsider assumptions, and consider future improvements based on sound feedback and expert input. But we will stand up for ourselves.
After attempting to engage faithfully with the Guardian over the past nine months, late on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, we received an inquiry from the publication informing us of a forthcoming broadside against several projects on the Verra Registry, based on little or no detailed analysis that they were willing to share with us, and giving us 36 hours to respond. It was clear, finally, that our extensive technical rebuttals and factual engagement with the publication were not being heard despite our best efforts. For the first time, therefore, we pursued outreach to the Guardian through legal counsel, requesting additional time and data backing the analysis for a reasonable review. While we were granted a few extra days (over the weekend) to respond, we were not granted access to the requested data.
We believe that, today, the Guardian leaves its readers ill informed and unprepared to help stop the worst impacts of climate change. Here is what, thanks to extensive one-sided reporting, a Guardian reader doesn’t know:
- Verra is a nonprofit organization, not a for-profit corporation, and all fees for registering projects go into running the registry system, the VCS Program, and other programs that support sustainability. Verra does not sell credits or engage in market transactions. Verra’s role is to ensure that projects satisfy its program rules, such that they can be registered and receive issuance of credits. Project proponents are free to hold, sell, or retire those credits thereafter at their discretion.
- There is compelling evidence proving the effectiveness of REDD+ projects. A September 2022 study by the University of Cambridge of 40 REDD+ projects found that, in the first five years of implementation, deforestation within project areas was reduced by 47%, and degradation rates were 58% lower. The study concluded that incentivizing forest conservation through voluntary site-based projects can slow tropical deforestation. In addition, an August 2023 peer-reviewed study by the University of Chicago demonstrated that carbon markets are one of the most effective tools available to prevent deforestation.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has described the REDD+ approach, one of the largest — and most-attacked — credit types in the VCM to date, as a promising pathway to climate mitigation that has a number of non-carbon benefits. Low funding is one of the key impediments to REDD+ reaching its full potential. The VCM exists to address this challenge.
- Companies engaged in the market are overwhelmingly the ones that do the most to cut their own footprint, moving twice as fast to decarbonize as those that are not. Furthermore, the VCM is voluntary, which means that none of the resources expended in it are required by law or mandate. This is why the market has grown while the world has waited desperately for mandatory climate action: because it lets companies do something today.
- The Guardian has repeatedly alleged that Verra is overstating the threats to the forests protected through these projects. The fact is, the vast majority of forests protected through the VCS Program are still standing in the face of massive, ongoing, grinding pressures of commercial agriculture and commodity production to cut them down – over 10 million hectares are destroyed every single year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
We have shared these points with the Guardian via our legal counsel and are awaiting a response.
At Verra, we are driven by an understanding of what happens if we don’t act. We cannot wait for government-mandated climate action to materialize. Social and environmental markets are critical to the success of global and local climate action. To tackle the existential crisis of climate change, carbon markets must thrive.