The latest research from the scientific team at Everland into REDD+ project baselines has revealed actual annual forest loss in the REDD+ projects investigated was 0.06% – more than a factor 10 lower than either baseline or observed jurisdictional deforestation rates.
The research analysed data from 53 REDD+ projects around the world, covering 83% of REDD projects globally, which represent 71% of all REDD+ carbon offsets issued. The study also discovered that the total rate of forest loss across these areas was 0.67%, a figure very close to the baseline measurement figure used for REDD+ projects of 0.70% every year – with a difference of only 0.03%.
The research stands in stark contrast to recent media claims, and disprove their criticisms of REDD+ projects for using allegedly flawed baseline methodologies.
Everland’s new data in fact offers a detailed picture of how accurate and robust REDD+ project baselines are by comparing actual forest loss rates over time to their forecast baselines.
Debunking media myths around REDD+ project effectiveness
It is widely acknowledged among climate actors and economics professionals, that the voluntary carbon market and carbon offsets from high-integrity conservation projects like REDD+ are a vital part of the solution to stay within the global temperature limits of the Paris Agreement.
Despite this, there has been a seemingly agenda-driven tide of misleading media articles in 2023 that focus on undermining the credibility of project-based REDD+ activity.
This scientific research now debunks the underlying premises behind these targeted media pieces. However, the negative impacts of these consistent ‘clickbait’ style articles has already, to some degree, begun to affect VCMs by interrupting the flow of funding to some of the world’s most vulnerable forest communities who were – for the first time – offered a viable income by protecting their forest home – instead of converting or deforesting the world’s most ecologically important and threatened forests.
One of the consistent claims made in the onslaught of negative media article is that there is systemic overcrediting among REDD+ projects. This latest data shows that on average, REDD+ conservation projects are in fact often underclaiming on their emissions reductions.
A recent exercise carried out by Carbon Growth Partners on University of California, Berkeley, Goldman School of Public Policy carbon database analysed the issuance data from the 26 largest REDD+ projects by credit issuance volume. This data was cross-referenced with carbon scores from the independent ratings agency Sylvera. The Sylvera Carbon Score rates the quality of carbon offsets and the carbon projects behind them by analysing satellite images, 3-D laser scans and other data to, amongst others, estimate how much carbon is stored in the forest.
The 20 rated projects accounted for 78% of all REDD+ carbon credits across a dozen countries, so they are a highly representative sample.
For this sample the data found:
- The 20 projects collectively issued 346.6 million carbon credits
- On average, they have achieved a carbon score of 102.1%, equal to 354.1 million tonnes of impact
- Projects have outperformed by 7.5 million credits
- The worst performing project overclaimed by a maximum of 5%
- The best performing project underclaimed by 21%
- The 20 largest projects have protected more than 5 million hectares of forest
This data overwhelmingly showcases the positive outcomes of REDD+ in terms of avoiding deforestation to conserve carbon stocks, yet does not account for the biodiversity saved and the resulting positive ecological impacts – which are also immense.
REDD+ Projects consistently outperform on deforestation
Part of the reason for the false media claims around over crediting in REDD+ projects, is vastly due to poor and inaccurate data, basic mathematical errors and over-simplified methodology. The often-cited datasets on global deforestation used to compare and claim that REDD+ baselines are overcrediting are inadequate and would in fact not pass carbon project audits. Forest loss maps from regional satellite monitoring are known to systematically underestimate deforestation.
The basis for the REDD+ critical articles is a scientific study, known as West et al., which has already been proven to contain significant faults in the way it assess control factors for REDD+ projects. West et al. calculates the effectiveness of REDD+ projects using so-called “synthetic control units” or “statistical matching,” which are methods that often do not capture the actual deforestation pressure that exists in the area where the projects are implemented.
Ed Mitchard, Chief Scientist at Space Intelligence Ltd, a leading intelligence provider for Nature-Based Solutions, and expert on forestry satellite data, went on record to clarify this.
“There are significant flaws with the way the (West et al. scientific study) paper finds controls for projects. It uses synthetic controls: areas, over a whole country, potentially thousands of kilometres away from the projects, matched to the original based on factors including historical deforestation rates. But these rates are normally zero in REDD+ projects before they start (REDD+ projects are areas of remaining forest that are very threatened – by definition non-forest areas already lost cannot be included) – matching them to other near-zero deforestation areas is very likely to include much less threatened pixels“
“Having zero deforestation at the start of a period is not a good measure on its own of threat. It’s not surprising that result finds that these matches have less deforestation than the nearby areas projects choose as their baselines: these are normally much more at threat than the ‘synthetic controls’ chosen by West et al. There is no point putting a REDD+ project in an area that is not very threatened: they are located non-randomly across a landscape, in the most threatened bits of forest.”
Along with Verra’s direct response, this goes some way to disprove the repeated claims by the media and highlight the flaws and holes in their reporting and methodologies.
Addressing deforestation with REDD+ projects is critical
Regardless of media opinion, addressing deforestation is essential and REDD+ offers a viable way to do so. In truth, not all “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” projects are equal. There are projects that are more effective in reducing emissions, depending on the quality of the baseline construction, additionality, permanence, and even co-benefits.
Truly ineffective projects represent just a small minority of the market. According to Sylvera, 60% of the REDD+ projects in South America can be considered tier 1 or tier 2, that is, projects with no or low risk that their claims will not be achieved.
Climate Change journalists have an important responsibility to ensure accurate and unbiased reporting on deforestation and the measures to combat it – including REDD+ projects. With many overperforming REDD+ projects existing and underway, it’s notable that there is such a lack of coverage of their successes with the media lens trained consistently on inaccurate and misleading sensationalism.
The fact remains that deforestation is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) globally. In the last 10 years alone 2.5 million hectares of the Paraguayan Chaco were lost due to deforestation for cattle farming.
Quadriz REDD+ project is largest of its kind in Paraguay, working to urgently conserve its rapidly disappearing forest carbon sinks. Quadriz is working to scale its efforts in the Paraguayan Chaco with these new and innovative carbon offsets. By choosing to offset emissions with Quadriz, companies deliver tangible local ecological and environmental benefits and maximum contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with global impact that signals the importance and urgency of combatting deforestation in the region.