Certification standard bodies in climate governance are assumed to function as independent third parties agencies in transactions, providing trust and transparency to ensure that the calculation of carbon credits is reliable.
This article investigates the validity of this assumption for the voluntary forest carbon market by analysing the environmental credibility of baseline scenarios of two certified REDD+ projects, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the Maï Ndombe REDD+ Project) and in Madagascar (The CAZ REDD+ Project). Authors show that these two certified REDD+ projects resemble ‘virtual emission reduction machines’ designed to inflate the production of carbon credits and that they do not structurally change the local economy characteristics which drive deforestation.
The design of both REDD+ and certification standards business models leads almost inevitably to the decision to use a baseline scenario with high deforestation rates and to limited interventions in the field.
The need to deal with the carbon market’s price volatility and to cover the fixed costs of certification exacerbates this trend towards inflated baselines, which also assists in the reduction of land use conflicts with local populations.