May 30, 2024

Press Release: New analysis reveals major corporations are utilizing millions of “likely junk” carbon offsets

Buyers span industries, include range of household names from Exxon to Nestle, Delta to Disney.

Boston, Massachusetts –  Today, new research by Corporate Accountability provides a deep dive into which globally-recognized brands have purchased the most “likely junk” carbon offset credits. An offset is an “allowance” that governments, institutions, and corporations—from fossil fuel majors and airlines to fast-food giants—purchase from environmental projects to supposedly count towards their respective greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The analysis underscores the inherently problematic nature of increasing corporate and governmental investment in a fundamentally-flawed scheme that has failed to reduce carbon emissions while distracting from effective climate action and even likely causing harm.

“These findings shed further light on the dangerous distraction that the voluntary carbon market remains, despite multiple reforms, new initiative launches, and rolling out of updated principles,” said Rachel Rose Jackson, Corporate Accountability’s Director of Climate Research & Policy. “What the evidence increasingly points to is that this scheme effectively operates to evade, not guarantee, meaningful climate action, and to greenwash further fossil fuel use and pollution. We shouldn’t be plugging holes in a sinking ship, not when millions of lives are at stake.”

Using an updated database of the largest “likely junk” credits, this investigation reveals the vast use of likely meaningless offsets by some of the largest household name corporations around the world, including Disney, Nestle, Gucci, Volkswagen, Delta,easyJet,Exxon, and many more. Representing approximately one third (32.03%) of the total credits retired in offsets projects globally according to AlliedOffsets Database, the updated analysis and rigorous scoring of the top 50 global offsets projects found that the vast majority are “likely” (42 out of the top 50 offsets projects or 84%) or “potentially” (7 out of the top 50 offsets projects or 14%) junk. Analysis also found that for many of these corporations, these “likely junk” offsets made up a notable (more than 1/3) or significant (more than ⅔) of their entire offsets portfolio.

The research comes on the heels of a Biden-Harris Administration announcement of proposed principles for carbon markets (which has been criticized by multiple experts), and as nations gear up for climate talks where “to offset or not to offset” will be in focus. The voluntary carbon market (VCM) has come under increased scrutiny thanks to multiple investigations by experts around the world revealing how these carbon trading schemes appear to give corporations cover to continue polluting while not actually reducing emissions, and even likely spurring significant harm. In 2023, a joint Guardian and Corporate Accountability investigation poked significant holes in carbon trading schemes seen to give permission to countries and corporations to continue burning fossil fuels.

The evidence suggests the presence of fundamental failures is not any less prevalent overall in the top 50 projects than it was in August 2023, despite multiple reforms and updated initiatives. In the analysis, each environmental project with one or more fundamental failing was classified as likely or potentially junk, depending on the number and gravity of the failings. Strong evidence of one or more of these fundamental failings means the promised emission reductions cannot be guaranteed. Some evidence of at least one failing means the project is potentially junk as it cannot guarantee the advertised emission cuts. Even though the research looked at all offsets credits retired since project inception, the bulk of the offsets (more than 60%) were retired within the last three years. This means that corporations are still making broad and increasing use of “likely junk” credits even as their worthlessness continues to come to light, and that attempts to curtail the junkiness of the VCM does not look particularly promising as a whole.

“Research demonstrates over and over that carbon markets are fraudulent, prolong the fossil fuel industries, accelerate climate chaos and violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said Tamra Gilbertson of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “UN negotiators at this week’s climate talks in Bonn aim to legitimize these dangerous markets into a global agreement that would mark doom for the planet. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground stops climate change, not incentivizing pollution.”


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