Verra, the world's largest issuer of voluntary carbon credits, released a new draft methodology for REDD+ projects April 19, calling it the most "significant revision" of its practices, as it looks to restore the integrity and quality of its forest carbon credits.
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The US-based registry has faced heavy criticism in recent months, with several media outlets and academics questioning the efficacy of its forest-based carbon offsets.
The updated methodology is still on track to be finalized and released in the third quarter, Verra said. The draft methodology has also been sent to an independent auditor for the review.
Verra, which administers the Verified Carbon Standard, currently has five methodologies for REDD+ projects, all of which are regularly updated, and have evolved significantly since 2009.
But the updated draft now only has one consolidated methodology, and this process will let Verra set baselines for all Avoiding Unplanned Deforestation projects in a specific country or region, providing increased consistency and certainty, according to the statement.
"Verra is constantly reviewing and refining its standards to include the latest data and science, and our landmark Verified Carbon Standard Program is no exception," Verra CEO David Antonioli said. "We seek to establish the best possible standards through transparent, open consultation across civil society and the corporate sector, and we are confident the draft changes announced today are the next critical step in that ongoing journey of reflection and improvement."
REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, and encompasses all activities aimed at protecting forests from deforestation. REDD+ projects aim to contribute to the fight against climate change by preserving existing forests in specific areas that are considered at risk of deforestation.
Verra also launched a consultation to crowdsource data for supporting the development of new standardized baselines.
"Governments, remote sensing companies, scientific organizations and other data providers are invited to apply between now and April 30, 2023," the statement said. "This initial call is focused on 12 jurisdictions, comprising six countries (Cambodia, Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and six subnational regions in Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
The setting of baselines for REDD+ projects, some of which estimate the number of emissions avoided based on modelled and observed rates of deforestation, has been a huge subject of debate.
In mid-January, the Guardian newspaper published a report alleging that REDD+ carbon credits issued by Verra were largely "worthless" and did not represent genuine carbon reductions.
Verra defended its work, and consequently released a detailed technical review disputing the newspaper investigation, labeling it "patently unreliable" and saying it contained "multiple serious methodological deficiencies."
The Guardian story also zoned in on the methodology used by Verra to certify its credits, saying the researchers found that the evidence used to calculate offsets was flawed. "Predictions of what would have happened in the absence of credits were unreliable, and benefits were overstated," the UK newspaper said.
Antonioli said the Guardian-backed investigation ignored key drivers like forest type, socio-economic conditions and geography. However, he admitted that the system was not perfect and that Verra's methodology s regularly evolving.
"We are making sure that the rules get updated with the latest best science, best practices and that is what we are doing with our REDD framework to enable the next generation of REDD+ activities with some different rules," he said in an interview with S&P Global Commodity Insights.
Prices and demand for nature-based carbon offsets have come under immense pressure in 2023.
Platts CNC, an assessment that reflects the most competitive nature-based carbon credit prices, was assessed at an all-time low of $1.60/mtCO2e April 19. Platts CNC averaged $9.55/mtC02e in 2022, according to data from S&P Global.
The voluntary carbon market is undergoing a significant transition, with a renewed focus on integrity and quality initiatives.
On the demand side, the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market finalized its Core Carbon Principles March 30, bringing some much-needed clarity as to what constitutes a high-quality credit. Moreover, the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative, or VCMI, will launch its Claims Code of Practice, aimed at bringing integrity to corporate claims, by the end of 2023.