The following comment was submitted to the chair and vicechair of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Supervisory Body (SB) on February 28, 2023.
Dear Ms. Qui and Mr. Dombrowicki,
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP),1 a non-governmental organization accredited by the UNFCCC, appreciates the opportunity to submit this short comment prior to the March 7-10 meeting of the SB in Bonn.2 This letter concerns agenda item 2.2, paragraph 7, the approval of the 2023 work plan, with some reference to agenda item 3, paragraph 10, on “removal activities.”
As the SB is aware, controversies about the environmental integrity of land-based emissions removal projects continue to proliferate in frequency and scale, particularly regarding avoidance credits derived from forest conservation projects.3
Carbon Direct's “Assessing the State of the Voluntary Carbon in 2022” concludes that "The Voluntary Carbon Market has a quality problem with the continued proliferation of risky project types."4 The proposals of the Integrity Council for Voluntary Carbon Markets (ICVCM) to enhance removal project environmental integrity by harmonizing certification protocols that issue Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) derived from these projects face many obstacles. Among them is the refusal by Verra, which issues about 75% of all VCUs, to cooperate with the ICVCM project.5
However, even if the ICVCM succeeds in improving project and VCU environmental integrity,6 it will not have resolved the concern of prospective VCU buyers that the projects and VCUs lack “social integrity”7 to ensure Parties and non-Parties’ protection of human and land rights in removal projects. The COP27 CMA requires the SB to propose measures that would improve the social and environmental integrity of removals before they are converted to and issued as tradeable VCUs: "Activity participants shall minimize and, where possible, avoid, negative environmental and social impacts of an activity involving removals including impacts on biodiversity, land and soils, ecosystem health, human health, food security, local livelihoods, and the rights of the indigenous peoples, by following requirements to be developed by the Supervisory Body while acknowledging that the enforcement of environmental and social protection laws is a national prerogative of the host Party."8 The requirements to minimize and avoid these negative impacts are an integral part of this CMA recommendation, not to be postponed while the SB deliberates the definition of “removals” and which removal techniques are proven to be efficacious towards meeting the 1.5⁰C Paris Agreement objective.
Although the Parties hosting removal projects reserve the right to enforce or not enforce environmental and social protection laws, prudent buyers of Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs), certified by Parties for sale to non-Parties, retain the right to perform due diligence investigations about the environmental and social integrity of the VCUs subsequently offered for sale. IATP urges the SB to revise its work program to recommend to Parties measures to provide documentation of compliance with social integrity requirements in ITMOs, which will affect how the private sector attempts to improve the integrity of VCUs. The SB should pair any recommendation for a COP28 Decision on removals with a COP28 recommendation for a Decision on methodologies to ensure the protection of human and land rights in the jurisdictions of removal projects.
The SB draft 2023 work plan currently prioritizes work towards making recommendations for Decisions on methodologies, including on “standardized baselines” and “removal activities,” to the CMA at COP28. (p. 6) IATP understands that these Decisions would be contributions towards enhancing the environmental integrity of ITMOs. The work plan provides only for the development of a Concept Note to provide guidance concerning Party and non-Party “Engagement with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform”9 (p. 4) It is in such engagement that social integrity of ITMOs and VCUs may be monitored, verified and reported by ensuring that land rights and human rights are not violated or infringed during the development and operation of removal activities, whether they be nature-based or engineering-based. Our recommended Decision on methodologies to ensure social and environmental protection would surely include Engagement with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform but would be separate from and additional to the Engagement work program item.
As the SB knows already, human and land rights violations, and unfair sharing of VCU proceeds with LCIPP groups are characteristic of many land-based removal projects, many of which are certified as tradeable VCUs.10 According to a summary of a recent study of 31 countries by carbon market proponents, “Most of the tropical forested countries looking to benefit from carbon markets have not yet defined communities’ rights over the carbon held in their customary lands and territories. This situation threatens both the well-being of communities who face increased threats of land grabs, criminalization, conflict and other human rights violations, and the viability of carbon markets themselves.”11 The absence of community rights over long occupied land without formal land ownership titles may be exploited by removal project developers. The threats to the viability of carbon markets as a predictable and adequate form of climate finance, resulting from the violation of community rights and customary land rights, are much less understood.
We would argue that these threats extend to engineered removal technologies, some of which, such as Carbon Capture and Storage12 and Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) require large tracts of land or the acquisition of easements for hundreds of kilometers of CO₂ pipeline to sites of purportedly permanent sequestration. Human rights impact analyses for BECCS are still an academic concept, not required by law or regulatory practice.13 This month’s meeting of the Human Rights Council to consider “the impact of new technologies for climate protection on the enjoyment of human rights (HRC resolution 48/14)”14 (bold in the original) would positively validate engineering-based removals, but without evaluating the likelihood of risks of specific removal technologies to human and land rights.
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