On January 18, The Guardian published an article based on three scientific papers (West et al. 2020, West et al. 2023 and Guizar Coutiño et al. 2022). These papers use a synthetic control approach in an attempt to create “proxy” areas for individual REDD+ projects as an alternative to the reference areas (VCS, 2020) required for developing a baseline scenario under the VCS standard.
The authors used their selected control sites in an attempt to assess the accuracy of the baseline deforestation used by the projects for evaluating performance in reducing deforestation and carbon emissions. Based on this approach, the authors concluded that the majority of REDD+ project baselines were overstated, suggesting that the actual carbon emissions reductions generated by the projects were far less than claimed.
However, the underlying analysis on which the article is based is fundamentally flawed, resulting in inaccurate and misleading conclusions. The methodological weaknesses, significant uncertainties, lack of peer-reviewed science for one critical reference, and misrepresentation of another fundamentally undercut the validity of the conclusions drawn by the Guardian authors. The reporting by the Guardian reflects no acknowledgement of these issues, and creates a strong impression, if not the clear reality, of bias and low journalistic integrity. As the world reckons with this unprecedented challenge of ending deforestation by 2030 and safeguarding life on Earth, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of scientific and journalistic integrity.
Here is what they got wrong:
A growing body of peer-reviewed research – including Guizar et al. (2022) as well as our own (Pauly, Crosse, and Tosteson (2022)) – confirm the substantial effectiveness of REDD+ in reducing deforestation and emissions. Forthcoming research by a large international group of collaborators will provide a more comprehensive, methodologically rigorous evaluation of REDD+ baselines; this research will be published later in 2023.
REDD+ is one of the most effective proven mechanisms, developed over decades by pioneers in the sector to provide economic value for conservation. It works, and it must be scaled up urgently if we are to have any legitimate hope of ending deforestation by 2030, as 140 countries have committed to doing.
Joshua Tosteson, MSc.
Maren Pauly, PhD.
Director – Evaluation & Research, Everland
Desbureaux, Sébastien. 2021. Subjective modeling choices and the robustness of impact evaluations in conservation science. Conservation Biology 35(5).
Guizar‐Coutiño, A., Jones, J.P., Balmford, A., Carmenta, R. and Coomes, D.A., 2022. A global evaluation of the effectiveness of voluntary REDD+ projects at reducing deforestation and degradation in the moist tropics. Conservation Biology, p.e13970.
Schleicher, J., Eklund, J., D. Barnes, M., Geldmann, J., Oldekop, J.A. and Jones, J.P., 2019. Statistical matching for conservation science. Conservation Biology, 34(3), pp.538-549.
Tyukavina, A., Baccini, A., Hansen, M.C., Potapov, P.V., Stehman, S.V., Houghton, R.A., Krylov, A.M., Turubanova, S. and Goetz, S.J., 2015. Aboveground carbon loss in natural and managed tropical forests from 2000 to 2012. Environmental Research Letters, 10(7), p.074002.
West, T.A., Wunder, S., Sills, E.O., Börner, J., Rifai, S.W., Neidermeier, A.N. and Kontoleon, A., 2023. Action needed to make carbon offsets from tropical forest conservation work for climate change mitigation. arXiv preprint arXiv:2301.03354.
West, T.A., Börner, J., Sills, E.O. and Kontoleon, A., 2020. Overstated carbon emission reductions from voluntary REDD+ projects in the Brazilian Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(39), pp.24188-24194.
Pauly, M., Crosse, W. and Tosteson, J., 2022. High deforestation trajectories in Cambodia slowly transformed through economic land concession restrictions and strategic execution of REDD+ protected areas. Scientific Reports, 12(1), pp.1-9.
Verified Carbon Standard, 2020. VM0007 REDD+ Methodology Framework (REDD+ MF). Version 1.6. Sectoral Scope 15.