ACR Responds to Latest Guardian Attack on the Voluntary Carbon Market



September 17, 2023

ACR Responds to Latest Guardian Attack on the Voluntary Carbon Market

Two ACR projects were recently called into question by The Guardian. We were contacted just days before publication and asked to respond to the findings of an “investigation” for which next to no information was provided, either in terms of the methodology or underlying data. The scant sources that were shared with us either did not seem to support the journalist’s conclusions, or have been heavily contested for lack of transparency.  Far from being a balanced investigation, in this case the journalist seems to have cherry picked sources to tell the story she wanted to tell, omitting information that ran counter to her narrative. Despite serious concerns with this opaque process, we provided a timely and detailed response to the Guardian’s inquiry, which, predictably, was not reflected in the one-sided story. So, we provide it here.

ACR Response to Inquiry from Nina Lakhani of The Guardian US

September 17, 2023

As the Global Stocktake highlighted earlier this week, “global emissions are not in line with modelled global mitigation pathways consistent with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement,” adding that, “much more ambition in action and support is needed.”

At ACR this reality shapes everything we do, pushing us to operate a global system driven by integrity and urgency.

Trove Research found in a report issued this week, “investment into carbon credit projects between 2012 and 2022 totaled $36 billion, with half of this occurring in the last three years and more than $3 billion in future investments already committed” and in another from June 2023, “companies that use material quantities of carbon credits are decarbonizing at twice the rate of companies that do not use carbon credits.” These studies show that carbon markets offer a critical way to scale up investment in climate solutions while also catalyzing corporate action to reduce carbon emissions.

In short, when it comes to the public interest in climate action, urgency and integrity must walk hand in hand.  And right now, with many valuable initiatives underway, too many parties are thinking of integrity as a destination, rather than a journey – one that ACR has been on since we launched the first greenhouse gas trading platform in the world in 1996.

Since our founding, we have continually improved our approaches, invested in new methodologies and sunset others. For example, catalyzing carbon finance to scale up grid connected wind energy accelerated the transition in many countries and drove down costs to a point where carbon finance is no longer needed.  Science develops and markets change, so our approaches continue to evolve.  And through it all, we keep pushing to bring the best standards to market as quickly as possible, driven by integrity and urgency.

While we strive to be open and responsive with all inquiries about our program, you have provided little information about the methodology of your “investigation” into two ACR projects (of over 650 on our registry). You have then provided us with a short Excel spreadsheet that gives no information as to how and why you reached your conclusions, citing sources whose evaluations do not align with your check box assertions and that have also been heavily contested for lack of transparency. Nevertheless, you contacted us about two projects, which we address below:

Merit Energy Geo-Seq

Credits have not been issued to this project for 15 years and the methodology underpinning the project was made inactive at the time of the last issuance. When the project was developed 20+ years ago before ACR became part of Winrock, additionality was determined based on a very low penetration rate of Enhanced Oil Recovery with CO2. Even today, only approximately 5% of the nation’s oil is produced using Enhanced Oil Recovery with CO2, which is hardly a threshold for common practice. CO2 is considerably more expensive than the alternatives, which is why the penetration rate is so low. CO2 injected in geologic formations is monitored for stability and considered permanently stored.

GreenTrees Advanced Carbon Restored Ecosystem

GreenTrees has enabled many hundreds of private landowners to reforest over 130,000 acres of marginal and degraded sites in the Mississippi Delta. Planting trees is an expensive, risky, and long-duration endeavor and is neither legally required nor a common practice. The carbon market incentivizes afforestation and reforestation by generating a tangible revenue stream for these actions to be maintained for ACR’s legally binding minimum 40-year term where it was otherwise absent. The line of evidence you’ve presented in condemning this project fails to support the assertion that credits from GreenTrees are “fundamentally flawed” or “junk”. Earlier this week a report, Assessing the Quality of Carbon Credit Rating Agencies, cautioned that discrepancies in assessment criteria, lack of standardization and transparency, and lack of regulation and oversight amongst carbon credit rating agencies may ultimately present confusion to the market. The line of evidence you’ve presented here goes a step further in shaking buyer confidence and creating market confusion without a firm scientific basis or reasoning.  We urge a more thorough analysis considering empirical evidence from multiple independent and unbiased sources.

The ACR methodology used by GreenTrees is applicable to marginal and degraded lands, which are lands that would not revert to forest cover without human intervention. Where trees are completely absent across the site and regeneration is not expected, the baseline will be zero. Where some natural regeneration occurs, remnant trees are either excluded from the project area or considered in both the project and baseline scenarios. Findings of an “inflated baseline”, “exaggerated claims”, and “not additional” should be reconsidered. As noted above, ACR requires a legally binding agreement with the project proponent to maintain project monitoring, reporting and verification activities for a minimum term of 40 years, which is the timeframe for permanence as defined by the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market in their Core Carbon Principles Assessment Framework.

We urge you to reconsider your assessment in the interest of providing fair and unbiased reporting of the GreenTrees project, and the carbon market as a whole.