Following the introduction and approval of the European Parliament proposal to put a stop to greenwashing, more attention has been devoted to exposing companies who have made groundless and performative climate claims.
On May 22 2023, it was announced that David Antonioli, the CEO of Verra, will be stepping down in June after working for the company for 15 years. Verra operates the “world’s leading carbon credit program:” the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program.
Verra has experienced extreme growth over the past couple of years under Antonioli’s management. For example, an article by Climate Home News revealed that in the last two years Verra’s annual revenues have more than tripled, reaching $40.5 million a year.
Remarkably, the company’s 2021 Annual Report revealed that it made 92% of its money from carbon credit sales.
The timing of Antonioli’s resignation might be linked to the 9-month investigation into Verra by The Guardian which was published in January. The investigation revealed the shocking news that more than 90% of the rainforest offset credits, which large companies such as Disney, Shell, and Gucci have invested in, are not likely to have anything to do with genuine carbon reductions, and are what the report calls “phantom credits.”
The Guardian wrote that:
“Only a handful of Verra’s rainforest projects showed evidence of deforestation reductions, according to two studies, with further analysis indicating that 94% of the credits had no benefit to the climate.”
Verra denied these allegations, and continued to assert that they operate “the world’s leading carbon crediting program.” Yet Antoniolo’s unexplained resignation may indicate that there is more going on underneath the surface than Verra is publicly acknowledging.
This is not the only instance of carbon offset schemes that have recently been discovered to be misleading. It has become common for large companies to use carbon credits and schemes such as Verra’s as a pretext; a way to avoid significant productive work towards climate reparations.
Carbon offset is usually linked to a forest, plantation, or green energy project, and the schemes often exaggerate the benefits of carbon credits and usually do not have as much of an impact as they claim. Worse, the schemes often include already existing “projects” that would have continued into the future without any need for carbon offsets.
With schemes like Verra multiplying the offers of carbon credits, it has become easy for companies to use carbon offset schemes with worthless credits, and then boast that they have become sustainable.
A striking example of this is Chevron, an oil company with a clearly detrimental impact on the environment, has said that it “aspires” to achieve net zero upstream emissions by 2050. This plan has nothing to do with cutting its own carbon emissions has mostly relied on carbon offset schemes.
Moreover, a new report by Corporate Accountability has revealed this month that 93% of the offsets that contributed towards Chevron’s climate targets between 2020 and 2022 were “junk,” or, as The Guardian explains: “too environmentally problematic to be classified as anything other than worthless.”
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Rachel Rose Jackson from Corporate Accountability gave this statement to The Guardian about the issue:
“Chevron’s junk climate action agenda is destructive and reckless, especially in light of climate science underscoring the only viable way forward is an equitable and urgent fossil fuel phase-out.”
It has become especially clear that carbon offset schemes should not be used if unaccompanied by real work to phase out fossil fuels, and cannot be shown off as a climate-conscious badge of honour by companies who refuse to openly acknowledge that they are not doing enough for the planet.
Despite Chevron’s claims that it “aspires” to become net zero by 2050, it is doubling down on its oil activities, announcing that they are planning to invest $57.4bn in oil expansion by the end of 2030. This is counterproductive, and cannot be hidden by greenwashing and false, performative claims.
The growing global awareness of the dangers of greenwashing is pushing companies that sell carbon credits to improve their environmental image, focusing on greater integrity.
Diego Saez Gil, the CEO of Pachama, another carbon offsetting firm that uses AI and remote sensing to verify and monitor carbon capture by forests, gave a statement to The Guardian asserting that he would like Verra to update its programmes with the latest science and techniques to improve integrity. When discussing Antonioli’s resignation, he said:
“This is a pivotal moment for carbon markets. In order to scale the critical funding required for carbon sequestration at a planetary scale, we must ensure integrity, transparency, and real benefits for local communities and biodiversity. A new generation of innovative players is collaborating with standard bodies, academics, corporates, and communities, creating a new era of carbon markets that gives me hope,” he said.
The time where greenwashing was easily hidden and used as a convenient pretext to continue business as usual has now ended. Companies must take real climate action or face the consequences of their detrimental impact on the planet.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Smoke from a factory polluting the sky. Featured Photo Credit: Ian Barbour