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Report calls attention to Colombia cheating carbon credit system

In Colombia, the continued use of fossil fuels is regularly offset by emission reduction projects. Already shrouded in controversy, a report has now outed many of these schemes in having no tangible benefit for the climate.

Colombia ranks among the nations most at risk of economic fallout, extreme weather events, and internal displacement triggered by climate change.

Rife with illegal deforestation throughout its indigenous lands, water shortages in its elevated Andes, and severe flooding in its coastal communities, Colombia has faced constant pressure from within and from foreign governments over the last decade to take climate change seriously.

Pledging last year to reduce the country’s carbon emission levels by 51% before 2030, President Ivan Duque Marquez relinquished his usual money focused rhetoric in favour of green ambitions to protect the region’s ecosystems and promote clean energy production.

Less than a year on, however, concerning reports are bringing this newfound environmental integrity into question. As Greenpeace states, again we may have been susceptible to ‘hot air.’


Colombia’s dubious carbon offsetting

By 2017, some 24 countries had adopted what is known as a carbon tax. Each set at different fees and quotas – subject to how much carbon they emit – the tax is levelled at companies involved in the production or use of fossil fuels.

Back in 2016, Colombia introduced its own levy of $5 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. However, its government offered a controversial get out which allowed companies to invest in carbon offset projects (or carbon credits) as an alternative.

Including everything from the conservation of biodiversity and indigenous lands, to tree planting and the protection of natural carbon banks, many chose the option of buying carbon credits over paying tax.

Now, five years on, analysis of such offset projects suggests that the carbon credit scheme may never have been fit for purpose in Colombia.


The alarming report

An investigation carried out by the UN backed Carbon Market Watch claims that several large scale forest protection projects in Colombia are dramatically overstating their impact on deforestation.

Warning that millions of carbon credits have likely been generated with no benefit to the climate, Carbon Market Watch states it’s merely scratched the ‘tip of the iceberg’ regarding the sheer scale of the offence.

One fossil fuel company called Primax Colombia SAS purchased as many as 5 million carbon credits since 2016, which Carbon Market Watch claims equates to a $25 million loss beyond its recorded environmental impact. Click here for Primax Colombia SAS’ take on the situation.

Carried out in cahoots with the Latin American Centre for Investigative Journalism, the published findings claim there are 75 similar projects making use of the domestic tax credit system that have yet to be probed.


Can we expect policy reviews?

Carbon Market Watch has requested that Primax Colombia SAS be suspended from the registry as a bare minimum, but other NGOs are pushing for a comprehensive ban on carbon credits globally. For those people, momentum is definitely on their side.

Verra, a non profit organisation known for certifying carbon offset projects, has come under massive pressure in the last month following an investigation from The Guardian and Greenpeace.

Much like recent revelations, the duo noticed inconsistencies in the offset data of 10 different companies based in multiple countries. Verra’s credibility is rightfully being questioned.

In most cases, projects were claiming credits over national baselines and massively in excess of their sustainable impact, and the bodies in charge of governing them (intentionally or not) turned a blind eye.

Inquests into the carbon credit system are ongoing from third-party auditors, but in the case of Colombia, immediate change is surely around the corner.

The Colombian environment ministry has responded to investigations by claiming it will develop a strategy to strengthen the integrity of the carbon market and its governance over carbon credits. What exactly that will look like, we don’t yet know.

After recent exposés, and future ones no doubt on the horizon, we can yet hope that many of the polluters exempt from paying carbon tax will soon have to cough up.

Primax Colombia SAS, predictably, declined to comment.

 

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