- A March report from the Associated Press revealed that the carbon credit program in Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park has been financially profitable but ineffective as a means of conservation.
- Despite that more than 28 million credits have been sold since the program’s launch in 2008, average annual deforestation has risen significantly.
- One source of the problem is that officials inflated the benefits of the program and the threats facing the park.
A carbon credit program in a prominent national park in Peru appears to have failed at preventing significant deforestation, raising questions about whether officials in charge of the program inflated its benefits in order to increase profits.
A March report from the Associated Press revealed that the carbon credit program in Cordillera Azul National Park, a 13,500-kilometer (8,388-mile) protected area in the Andes, has been financially profitable but ineffective as a means of conservation. Satellite data shows that tree cover loss in the park has more than doubled in the past two years.
“The Cordillera Azul project was flawed from the beginning, with far too many carbon credits generated and exaggerated benefits that allowed the nonprofit running the park for the Peruvian government to make more money — even as the tree canopy shrank,” the report said.
Launched in 2008, the program was meant to offset the carbon footprint of major emitters. Oil companies like Shell and TotalEnergies purchased blocs of the park (or “credits”) equivalent to one ton of carbon dioxide, allowing them to emit in other ways. AP found that more than 28 million credits were sold in Cordillera Azul, meaning the program was theoretically offsetting 28 million tons of CO2.
The program brought in millions of dollars for the park, covering around 90% of its operating costs and bolstering forest patrols and education about deforestation for local communities, AP said. But at the same time, average tree cover loss increased from 262 hectares (650 acres) per year before the program was implemented to 572 hectares (1,400 acres) per year, according to satellite mapping company Space Intelligence.
The deforestation — driven by farming, mining and logging — mostly took place around the more densely populated western and northern borders of the park, suggesting that the deforestation was driven by human interests rather than natural phenomena like landslides, a claim made by program officials to AP.
“It is clear something has gone wrong in this project,” Edward Mitchard, a deforestation and carbon credits expert at the University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences, told AP.
Critics of the program said it’s been flawed since its founding, with officials inflating the potential benefits of a carbon credit system within the park.
Carbon credits have long been under scrutiny for being an imperfect, if not problematic, solution to reducing carbon emissions. Critics say they give a free pass to the worst emitters and don’t put enough pressure on dirty industries to change. They also say the carbon credit market is largely unregulated, resulting in conservation efforts that aren’t completely well-intentioned.
The Center for Conservation, Research and Management of Natural Areas (CIMA), the group that oversees Cordillera Azul’s carbon credit program, estimated that nearly 29 million tons of CO2 would be emitted because of deforestation in Cordillera Azul between 2008 and 2018. But AP said an independent expert found that CIMA “artificially boosted” that estimate by oversampling parts of the park susceptible to development and ignoring the more secluded, harder-to-reach areas.
CIMA may have also manipulated population growth within the park, a common driver of deforestation. AP cited the district of Pampa Hermosa, where CIMA said the population would grow by more than 700% in the next decade despite that historical figures showed the population had experienced less than 3% growth.
Generally, carbon credits are granted to at-risk areas that don’t already have protections, such as national park status. But CIMA officials told AP that the carbon credit program allowed them to pay rangers and increase educational opportunities. Without the carbon credit program, legal protections alone wouldn’t be enough to stop tree cover loss.
“Existence of a national park title in a country like Peru is not sufficient to halt deforestation,” CIMA executive director Gonzalo Varillas told AP.
Banner image: Cordillera Azul National Park. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
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