At least 90% of the voluntary carbon offsets awarded from audits performed by ANAB-accredited certification bodies were found to be “worthless,” according to an independent investigation by the Guardian news organization.

The Guardian, working with Die Zeit and Source Material, launched a nine-month probe into the claims made by Verra, a Washington DC-based greenhouse gas standards body and certification scheme owner. The Verra voluntary carbon offset program allows companies that produce unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions to purchase “carbon credits” from third-party projects which allege to reduce or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Such credits are viewed as “offsets” to balance out an organization’s overall affect on the environment.

These third-party projects then undergo voluntary audits under the “Verra Carbon Standard” (VCS) program, which alleges to verify that such projects “reduce and remove emissions, improve livelihoods, and protect nature.” According to Verra:

Once certified, these projects are eligible to be issued Verified Carbon Units (VCUs), with one VCU representing one metric ton of carbon dioxide reduced or removed from the atmosphere. Projects can monetize these VCUs in the carbon market to support and scale up their climate change mitigation activities.

Verra has contracted with the US accreditation body ANAB to accredit VCS certification bodies under ISO 14065. Currently, ANAB has accredited nearly 30 bodies under the Verra program, including TUV Nord, TUV Sud, Bureau Veritas India, and numerous bodies in China.

These ANAB-accredited bodies then perform audits of the environmental projects, attesting that they comply with the VCS standards and improve the environment.

“Worthless” Claims  

Verra claims its VCS program has “reduced or removed nearly one billion tons of carbon and other GHG emissions from the atmosphere.”

But the Guardian investigation found that “more than 90% of [Verra’s] rainforest offset credits … are likely to be “phantom credits” and do not represent genuine carbon reductions.” According to the Guardian, Verra has issued over 1 billion carbon credits worldwide, to date.

At the same time, ANAB claims Verra accreditation scheme ensures that its certification bodies — technically called “verification & validation bodies” under the scheme — comply with a variety of related ISO greenhouse gas standards, including ISO 14066. According to Verra’s website, ANAB-accredited bodies “rigorously evaluate projects against the VCS Standards and Program Rules.” From Verra:

During validation, a VVB determines whether a project meets all rules and requirements from the Verra Programs. Once validation has been concluded, the project proponent may submit the project for registration with the respective program.

During verification, a VVB confirms that the outcomes set out in the project documentation have been achieved and quantified according to the requirements of the respective standard.

The Guardian’s findings call into question not only the validity of the Verra standards and certification scheme, but the entire accreditation program launched and managed by ANAB. Meanwhile, ANAB claims it is not stopping with the VCS program, but “is exploring the expansion of its program to include validation and verification of other types of environmental information.” Per the Guardian:

The research into Verra, the world’s leading carbon standard for the rapidly growing $2bn (£1.6bn) voluntary offsets market, has found that, based on analysis of a significant percentage of the projects, more than 90% of their rainforest offset credits – among the most commonly used by companies – are likely to be “phantom credits” and do not represent genuine carbon reductions.

The analysis raises questions over the credits bought by a number of internationally renowned companies – some of them have labelled their products “carbon neutral”, or have told their consumers they can fly, buy new clothes or eat certain foods without making the climate crisis worse.

For over twenty years, independent investigations by Oxebridge have called into question the efficacy and trust of ANAB-accredited activities. Oxebridge has reported a host of scandals and poor practices by ANAB and its assessors, including ignoring gross violations of accreditation rules on the part of its certification body (CB) clients, colluding with private consultants to create certification schemes without industry participation, suspect financial practices, and — in one case — an ANAB assessor found to be sleeping during a mandatory “witness audit” of an accredited CB.

Oxebridge reached out to ANAB for comment, but did not hear back before publication. This report will be updated with any responses provided by ANAB.


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Why we report on these topics

Since 2000, Oxebridge has worked to improve ISO and related certification schemes by identifying problems and then proposing solutions. We report on issues affecting standards users because so few other news outlets do. Our belief is that in order to fix the problems in these schemes, we must first understand the nature and breadth of those problems. Our reporting aims to do just that. Elsewhere on the Oxebridge site you will find White Papers and other articles proposing ideas to correct these problems.