REDD+ developer rejects NGO's 'human rights abuses' claims

22 Jun 2023

Quantum Commodity Intelligence – The developer of the Southern Cardamom REDD+ project in Cambodia has rejected what it called "inaccurate and misleading" claims of human rights abuses cited by an NGO that prompted US certification body Verra earlier this week to conduct a review of further credit issuances from the scheme.

The response from Wildlife Alliance late Thursday came on the same day that carbon ratings service BeZero Carbon put the rating for Southern Cardamom onto ‘rating watch' for a project that is one of the most actively traded in the over the counter (OTC) market.

"Wildlife Alliance meaningfully and unambiguously advances human rights and sustainable development in a tremendously challenging environment. We are engaging with Human Rights Watch (HRW) to make sure they have all the information necessary to arrive at an unbiased and accurate conclusion," Wildlife Alliance's chief executive Suwanna Gauntlett told Quantum in a message.

She added: "It would be completely irresponsible for HRW to publish inaccurate and misleading findings before allowing Wildlife Alliance to correct the numerous inaccuracies in the information they rely on. Doing so would cause irreparable damage and harm to the communities, forest, and wildlife of the Southern Cardamoms."

The organisation is understood to be working on a detailed rebuttal to HRW's claims.

On 19th June, Verra said in a letter it had received "stakeholder comments" about the project's first validation phase, which the carbon standard said warranted a quality control review and suspension of credit or label issuance until its review was complete.

BeZero Carbon, one of the most well-known ratings agencies for the VCM, said Thursday that its decision to place Southern Cardamom REDD+ on ‘rating watch’ also involves a review of "the implications of the [Verra] suspension across all risk factors."

"We will publish an update after the completion of the review," BeZero Carbon added.

BeZero's decision to place the project on 'ratings watch' follows a downgrade to 'B' earlier in year that had been driven by concerns about additionality, increased risk of over-crediting due to a potentially over-estimated baseline, and non-permanence risk "due to a lack of community engagement in the project."

US marketing firm Everland, a partner on the project, said last year that the REDD+ programme has led to a 50% drop in deforestation rates in major Cambodian forest areas, such as Keo Seima and Southern Cardamom, showing the mechanism's potential for preventing widespread deforestation. 

In a message published on Twitter, Human Rights Watch said it started investigating allegations of human rights abuses at the Southern Cardamon REDD+ project in April 2022, adding that it had shared its preliminary findings with the companies that implemented the project, the project's auditors, and Verra.

"Human Rights Watch will release its report when it is ready for publication," the NGO added.