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Carbon Ratings

Achieving your climate goals with REDD+

May 19, 2022
Protecting our forest and combatting climate change with REDD+

Forests are carbon sponges; they store carbon dioxide, keep our climate stable and cover 31% of our Earth’s land. According to the UN, almost 80% of biodiversity which is animals, plants and insects live in forests, but in the last three decades, we have lost approximately 178 million hectares of forest. We need to protect our rainforests before we lose them completely, but how? 

What is REDD+?

The initiative to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) was originally introduced in 1997 at Kyoto. It was formally recognized under the Bali Action Plan in 2007 by UNFCC 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13). In 2013, the methodology and financing guidance for REDD+ activities was completed at COP16, which is commonly referred to as the Warsaw Framework for REDD+. The framework is also outlined in Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, which encourages activities that focus on the sustainable management and conservation of forests.

As one of the several nature-based carbon credit project types, REDD+ attaches financial value to the carbon stored in forests and adds an incentive to reduce human impact that results in greenhouse gases (GHGs).

There are two project types that fall under REDD+:

  1. Avoided unplanned deforestation (AUD) projects: These aim to protect forests from highly localized agents of deforestation, such as deforestation caused by local communities growing crops for local consumption or deforestation due to illegal logging. 

Examples of AUD projects could include financial support to local communities so they have the means to boost yields from existing farmland or increased patrols to monitor deforestation from illegal activity.

  1. Avoided planned deforestation (APD) projects: These primarily seek to protect forests from large-scale, commercial agents of legally permitted deforestation for alternative use, such as for crop plantations or cattle ranches. These projects protect the forest from secondary agents of deforestation, which are primarily local communities.

An example of an APD project is preventing the entire project area from being cleared over 5-10 years by a global corporation that has well-documented plans to convert the forested area to a commercial palm oil plantation. 

In theory, this seems like an effective way to tackle deforestation and degradation, but what happens when REDD+ projects are put into practice? 

How we can overcome REDD+ challenges

Critics of REDD+ and nature-based solutions (NBS) have questioned the positive impact of these projects. At Sylvera, we understand that REDD+ projects are not perfect. For example, there is a common misconception these projects will completely halt deforestation. In reality, they are more likely to reduce or partly mitigate the rising rate of deforestation, and this is better for the climate and ecosystems than nothing being done at all. 

Here are some of the common concerns of REDD+:

  • Ability of project owners to accurately measure carbon: the lack of technology or tools to properly measure and monitor carbon emissions reductions can call into question the effectiveness and integrity of a project. There is also an assumption that REDD+ credits are inflated on every project, and while this can happen, it isn’t always the case.
  • Lack of proper reporting on leakage areas: leakage is when deforestation or degradation that would have occurred within the project area moves elsewhere as a result of project activities. For instance, if an area of a rainforest is protected from logging, but then the logging activity shifts to an area that isn’t protected, this would be considered leakage. As a result any emissions reduced or prevented by the project are essentially negated by the leakage.
  • Additionality: A carbon credit project should result in emissions avoided or reduced that would not have otherwise occurred if the project didn’t exist. For example, if a forest has historically been adequately protected as a result of conservation efforts, but then begins to issue credits, it would not be additional. If a project inflates or forecasts unrealistically high rates of deforestation, the climate impact of the project is likely exaggerated.
  • Long-term durability: with NBS projects, some people are rightly concerned about the permanence that carbon can be sequestered or avoided. Risk factors in the form of natural events like fires or those related to people need to be considered as they can prevent deforestation or degradation efforts of a project. 
  • Impact on local biodiversity and communities: a project that doesn’t consider local communities and biodiversity in its approach could negatively impact them. For example, restricting a community from accessing the forest and not offering an alternative could affect their livelihoods. However if a project is executed properly, then it can benefit them.

How Sylvera analyzes REDD+ project performance

Sylvera’s rating system was designed to evaluate project performance in order to help select the highest quality projects that will make a real impact - we look at these 4 core pillars:

  • The Carbon score verifies whether a project is accurately reporting on its activities, which directly translate to its overall avoidance or removal of CO2, and other GHGs, measured in CO2, equivalent (CO2e). We verify these activities, which include the planting of trees and the protection against deforestation, by comparing data provided by the project developers with our own measurements using satellite imagery and machine learning. We also use satellite data to conduct an independent assessment of the project area and leakage area to determine the extent of the leakage and GHG. We then evaluate whether emissions reductions have been achieved. The likelihood that one carbon credit has prevented 1 metric tonne CO2e from being released into the atmosphere will be reduced if the project is underreporting emissions.
  • The Additionality score assesses the likelihood of carbon reduction activities being implemented in absence of the project. It also quantifies whether the project is inflating the threat of deforestation and, therefore, issuing too many credits. For REDD+ carbon credits to offset GHG emissions, they must have prevented carbon emissions that would have occurred otherwise. A measure of the likely additionality of carbon credits is, therefore, essential to understand their climate impact.
  • The Permanence score assesses whether the GHG emissions avoided or removed by the project are likely to be maintained for a significant period of time, typically 100 years. We also look at historic risks such as fires and human activity and forecast the possibility of future risks. By analyzing the permanence of a project, we can assess the long-term impact of a project. Permanence risk is particularly important to monitor if engaged in long term offtakes with a project.
  • The Co-benefits score assesses the scope and relative impact of project activities on local biodiversity and communities. We independently identify which UN Sustainable Development Goals the project is contributing towards by examining the activities implemented by the project. The co-benefits of a project are often used to help market the project. Understanding the scope and impact of these activities can help buyers determine whether the project is aligned with their own priorities and whether the project is delivering material benefits.

For more information on our REDD+ framework, download our REDD+ white paper.

Selecting high-quality REDD+ projects 

We believe leveraging all available tools, including nature-based solutions, is crucial to address climate change. But if we're going to do this in a meaningful way, we must only invest in high-quality carbon credits. We develop ratings frameworks to provide independent and robust evaluation of carbon credits, so that buyers and traders can identify the highest quality credits for the best impact and value. We started with REDD+ projects, because nature-based solutions make up the largest category of projects in the VCMs.

Sylvera has rated 85% of issued credits for REDD+ projects, and 50% of all the nature-based issued projects in the VCMs. This has given our buyers a perspective on the range of project quality. 

For example, our analysis of a project in South America reveals that it significantly exceeded its carbon reduction targets, has low over-crediting risk, implements additional activities to reduce deforestation, and has moderate permanence risk. As a result, it received a carbon score of AA. Although deforestation for this project has increased since 2020, our satellite data detected less forest loss than was reported by the project owners. Based on the information, we can conclude that the carbon impact of this project is a true reflection of what has been reported and verified.

We understand the challenges in discovering and comparing high-quality REDD+ projects. That's why we’ve invested in conducting the deep analysis needed to deliver clear project ratings, and to reveal which projects are high performing and which ones are not. Nature-based solutions could provide one third of carbon reduction that the planet needs to stabilize our climate by 2030. Therefore, we should not ignore the diverse benefits these projects could offer, and the opportunity to protect and restore one of our greatest carbon sinks.

If you want information on our REDD+ ratings framework, download our REDD+ white paper here.

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