Under the pretext of exposing badly run carbon projects, journalists with poor understandings of the drivers of deforestation and too often a disregard for evidence that contradicts their narrative, are jeopardising conservation programmes that have proven effectiveness.
A series of attacks on REDD+ projects by some NGOs and journalists has emerged in recent years, as the market for voluntary carbon credits has grown. The tactic of aggressively undermining the integrity of REDD+ projects is being used, with the apparent goal of discrediting the growing voluntary carbon market.
Good journalism has an important role to play in exposing greenwashing and pressuring corporations and governments to do more to protect nature and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, it is essential that projects with weak additionality or inflated carbon assessments are called out.
But journalist who unwittingly or knowingly spread misinformation about projects that are demonstrably having a positive impact are standing in the way of vital efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
As a company that is working to protect as much tropical forest as possible, Permian Global has experienced this several times. On each occasion, our team will go to lengths to answer the questions in full and provide data and context for the journalist. Yet too often the journalist will ignore the evidence and instead print a false narrative, typically to criticise a corporation for having bought credits from one of our projects.
Below is the latest example from the Tokyo-based financial newspaper, NIKKEI.
Permian Global response to NIKKEI article Indonesian carbon credit project appears to betray its purpose
Permian Global completely rejects the accusations of impropriety made against the Katingan Mentaya Project in the NIKKEI article Indonesian carbon credit project appears to betray its purpose, published 13 December 2021.
The project has been designed using robust science and a conservative baseline to measure the avoided emissions. Moreover, the methodologies used by the project, and the third-party auditors, are thorough, transparent and publicly available for anyone to review.
The article demonstrates a poor understanding of forest conservation and carbon assessments, while containing many statements that are simply untrue. We have highlighted these errors in our analysis below.
Permian Global and its partners spent many months in contact with the NIKKEI journalist, providing detailed responses to questions relating to the project. The journalist made it clear that they were sceptical of the project from the beginning. As soon as one accusation was refuted, the journalist would switch to a different line of questioning, making it clear that the overall objective was to undermine the project, without any basis for their arguments.
Impact of the moratorium on the Katingan Mentaya Project additionality
A point-by-point analysis of the article is included below, but first it is important to address the central argument of the article, which is that the “possibility of plantation development has been almost fully eliminated by the moratorium. Now, one-third of the project’s anti-deforestation efforts are redundant.” This statement is completely untrue and recklessly naïve.
For context, to create an accurate baseline assessment, the Katingan Mentaya Project had to take the following steps:
For a forest project to demonstrate credible additionality, it must show that there were tangible threats to the forest of deforestation and/or degradation and it must act to secure the concession before those risks becomes a reality and deforestation occurs.
If conservation schemes like the Katingan Mentaya Project were required to wait until a deforestation threat had become a reality, the damage will have already been done, it would be too late to act and there would be far fewer protected forests. The forest would already have been destroyed.
As explained to the journalist, the baseline assessment reflects the situation at the time and most probable outcome for the forest area in 2010 which, as described in the PDD, is that permission would have been granted to three companies for industrial plantation forest.
The moratorium policy, which was announced later, and which applied only to new permits, would not have affected those concessions already granted with a permit, so they would have been able to continue operating.
We also explained to the journalist that while the moratorium is by and large a positive policy, which should be celebrated, and adopted by other countries hoping to reduce deforestation, it would be naïve to think that any country would be wholly successful in rapidly implementing and maintaining such rules, and therefore threats remain.
We recommended the following analyses of the moratorium: https://www.wri.org/research/indonesias-forest-moratorium
In 2011 when it was announced, the moratorium was considered temporary, it was only in 2019 that it was made permanent.
|Main errors in the NIKKEI article|
|[The Katingan Mentaya Project has] issued credits up to three times more than the amount of carbon dioxide it is likely to absorb.||Incorrect, and the journalist fails to explain the rationale in the article.
The project is only able to issue credits that have been verified by third-party expert auditors, who have assessed the project against the internationally recognised, leading carbon accounting standard, the VCS Program.
Credits are issued based on the avoided emissions generated by the project through its elimination of threats. Credits are not generated by the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed / sequestered.
|Rimba Makmur Utama, an Indonesian property development company||Incorrect. Rimba Makmur Utama is not a property development company, it is the operating company that manages the Katingan Mentaya Project.|
|…since 2017 has issued voluntary credits equivalent to 30 million tons and brought in an estimated $210 million.||Incorrect. It looks like the journalists made some crude estimates on pricing and credits issued, did some vague calculation or guesswork and came up with a figure. These wildly inaccurate assumptions are verging on sensational journalism.|
|Using satellite data from the University of Maryland, Nikkei analyzed changes in the forest area in Central Kalimantan and found that except for a year of large-scale fires, forests without concessions decreased by only about 1% a year.||This statement again demonstrates the lack of understanding the journalist has for how projects are eliminating threats. The project’s baseline is constructed based on what would have happened to similar forests under concession licenses.
There has been a forest loss rate of 1.61% considering 2016 – the El Niño year of extremely high fires. Removing the year 2016 the forest loss rate was 1.20%
These two rates are actually high forest loss rates in percentage terms. The fact that the journalist refer to this as “forests without concessions decreased by only about 1% a year” reflects the lack of basic understanding of deforestation rates in threatened forests of tropical countries.
This fact is relevant because if we accumulate those rates from 2009 to 2020 the results would be a loss of 18% of the forest resources if we include the year 2016, and a loss of 12% of forests resources if we exclude it. Those are significant forest losses over a decade. (Please email email@example.com for analysis.)
|“There is [only] one pulp paper concession adjacent to the project area. The concession is inactive.”||This is alarmingly misleading as the journalist will have known that there are many oil palm concessions surrounding the project.|
|The Indonesian government introduced a moratorium on new forest developments in May 2011, six months after the project began. Of some 1,500 sq. km covered by the project, the possibility of plantation development has been almost fully eliminated by the moratorium. Now, one-third of the project’s anti-deforestation efforts are redundant.||First, the project was established before the moratorium came into effect and so it prevented acacia plantation concession licenses that would not have been affected by the new rules. The moratorium only applies to new licenses, so any concession licenses already granted would still stand and so emissions from plantation production will have continued, were it not for the project’s intervention.
Second, multiple studies have demonstrated failings and loopholes with the moratorium, including redrawing boundaries to allow plantation application approvals, [LINK].
|Nikkei’s analysis of data on forest development permits compiled by the Indonesian government also shows that by the time the project began in 2010, the area granted for pulp plantation development had already plummeted||At the time the project was established, industrial acacia plantation was the most pressing threat to the forest area. Subsequently acacia plantations were replaced by oil palm plantations as the most imminent and likely threat to forest areas. Whether it is acacia or oil palm, clearing the forest and draining the peat dome would have caused devastating environmental harm and caused enormous levels of emissions. The Katingan Mentaya Project has successfully prevented this. The fact the journalist omitted the significant detail that oil palm plantations had replaced acacia plantations as the leading threat in the area is further demonstration that the journalist’s intentions were to discredit the project rather than providing a fair and accurate portrayal of the situation.|
|General inaccuracies and demonstrations of poor research in the NIKKEI article|
|Carbon credits can be issued based on the amount of CO2 that will be absorbed as long as forests are conserved.||Incorrect. Additionality, and therefore the generation of credits, is achieved by mitigating a clear threat to the forest. The project is based on avoiding emissions through deforestation. Absorbing carbon, or sequestration, happens continuously but this accumulation of carbon is not the basis on which the project’s baseline was constructed.|
|The absorption is done by trees through photosynthesis. Once absorbed, carbon is bound up in sugar, then released as oxygen.||Basic clumsy error. This process stores carbon in the biomass and the oxygen is released as a by-product.|
|As emission limits are lowered every year, the price of a credit has risen to more than 60 euros ($67.61) from 4 euros in 2016.||The data is significantly out of date and refers to a government-issued emission allowance and not a carbon credit. Further proof of the journalist’s lack of understanding and sloppy research.|
|They are available through a private registry system that offers CO2 credits accruing from forest conservation, afforestation or energy-saving decarbonization efforts and are validated by a third party. Although these credits cannot be used to comply with official regulations, they can help companies emphasize their commitment to reducing emissions.||Incorrect. Credits of this kind are eligible for both compliance markets, such as the domestic carbon tax and offset market in Colombia, and for voluntary purposes. Again, demonstrating the journalist is ill-informed and lacks basic knowledge about the subject matter.|
|Trading volumes have jumped seven times over the past four years, to 300 million tons, while the average price of forest and land-use carbon credits has increased by 40%, to the $4 level. It has topped $10 in futures trading.||Again, very outdated data.|
|But irregularities could arise in the forest carbon credit market if the amount of potential deforestation is initially overestimated and a project later issues more credits than carbon emissions it can offset.||This is prevented from happening due to the independent auditing and public consultation process as per the third-party standard requirements. Projects are robustly assessed prior to validation, require annual verification conducted by independent auditors and undertake 10-year baseline renewals.|
|“Additionality” refers to the “extra good for preventing global warming” that a project is expected to create.||Incorrect. “Additionality” is the concept of demonstrating that the project is achieving something that would not have otherwise occurred had the project not been implemented, i.e. it is ‘additional’ to the business as usual (BAU) scenario.|
|If regulations like Indonesia’s development moratorium do their job, additionality cannot be validated.||This would be laughably naïve if it were not such a serious issue. Does the journalist believe we are not currently in a deforestation crisis, losing more than 12 million hectares of natural forest every year? Government interventions alone are failing at solving this problem globally|
|To improve the quality of voluntary carbon credits, loopholes should be closed to project promoters and third-party certification organizations. It is crucial that standards for the issuance of credits be tightened and made uniform.||Please note the work of the Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Council.