Image Source: Ina96, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/
Image edited by Calyx Global
The carbon market has been facing another reckoning over the last week, not one of GHG integrity, but one of human rights. The Kasigau Corridor REDD project in Kenya, managed by Wildlife Works, has come under scrutiny due to accusations of serious, systemic sexual abuse. The investigation was conducted by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). This disturbing information follows the recent news surrounding the Kariba REDD+ project in Zimbabwe, which garnered attention due to concerns over permitting paid trophy hunting in the area and financial malfeasance. These incidents have raised two critical questions (and likely more) regarding environmental and social safeguards and accountability within the climate industry.
How do we ensure carbon projects adopt environmental and social safeguards?
To date, safeguards have not been at the forefront of project design. While some carbon crediting programs adopt a “do no harm” approach, their requirements are often weak, leaving gaps in safeguards that allow for things like unfair profit sharing, safety issues such as the ones mentioned in this Kasiagu project, or biodiversity harm. On top of that, standards currently fail to ensure proper monitoring and verification of safeguards and for information to be transparently shared to drive accountability. Addressing these issues largely falls upon the carbon crediting program. As rule setters for quality in GHG impact, they have the opportunity, and obligation, to do the same for safeguards.
In the case of Kasigau, SOMO suggested that this particular case was a result of auditing failures and a lack of effective grievance procedures. They also note that transparency would have helped to address these issues earlier on.
What can I do as a carbon credit buyer to mitigate these risks?
Safeguards can protect buyers from the risk of being associated with a project that does harm. But in the current landscape, buyers are faced with a considerable challenge when discerning which projects have genuinely robust social and environmental safeguards in place.
The most crucial step a carbon credit buyer can take is to understand the risks that a project presents (this can vary by project type and context) and then ask the project developer what safeguards are in place. Ideally projects should be transparent and make this information publicly available – including to affected stakeholders. Experts who know particular regions or project types can provide an additional layer of targeted support, including providing the right questions that a buyer might ask that they may not have considered.
Conclusion: We need to strengthen the system
The state of uncertainty regarding safeguards can have a profound impact on the market. On one hand, there is an increasing stream of news articles containing allegations related to human rights and other violations, inequitable distribution of benefits, and insufficient engagement from key stakeholders. On the other hand, these incredibly unfortunate incidents can tarnish the reputation of other commendable projects that are earnestly striving to uphold high standards.
These recent incidents present an opportunity for the carbon market community to take stock and take serious steps to make improvements to ensure all projects are identifying environmental and social risks and putting in place robust management of them. In fact, the ICVCM acknowledged the need for substantial improvements in safeguards related to carbon credits in its Assessment Framework (but stopped short of requiring them). We call on standards to strengthen the requirements for carbon projects to widely established industry best practices on social and environmental safeguards – taking the burden away from buyers and providing higher assurances to the market that incidents like what has occurred in the Kasigau project will not happen again.
As the issuer of credits from this project, Verra has halted issuance from the Kasigau project and has begun its own investigation. As the project developer, Wildlife Works has also responded, which can be found here.
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