David Antonioli announced yesterday that he has “decided to step down” after 15 years as the CEO of Verra. In a statement on LinkedIn, Antonioli says he is “immensely proud of what Verra has accomplished”.
Antonioli is leaving at a time when Verra is coming in for increasing criticism. In January 2023, a nine-month investigation by The Guardian, Die Zeit, and SourceMaterial that found that more than 90% of Verra’s rainforest carbon offsets were worthless.
They were “a heap of junk”, as Die Zeit journalists Tin Fischer und Hannah Knuth wrote.
Before that, comedian John Oliver dedicated one of his programmes to making fun of carbon offsets. “We cannot offset our way out of climate change,” Oliver said.
Human rights abuses
In a response to Oliver’s programme, Verra referred to the Alto Mayo REDD+ project in Peru, as “a good example of countless other projects that leverage carbon finance to provide a lifeline to communities living in and around those forests”.
This comment clearly illustrates how little attention Verra pays to the impacts of the projects it certifies. In 2020, Bloomberg wrote about the Alto Mayo REDD+ project, reporting that the community living in and around the project was split between those in favour of the project and those who opposed it.
A 2019 four-day protest against the project was dispersed by hundreds of riot police firing tear gas. Armed police patrol the forests in an attempt to stop deforestation. This is fortress conservation.
Lauren Gifford, who did part of her PhD research at Alto Mayo, calls the project “Carbon colonialism”.
The Guardian reported this year that police had demolished people’s homes with chainsaws, axes, and ropes. In March 2023, when Antonioli was asked about these human rights abuses during a debate organised by Innovation Forum, here’s how he replied:
“On the human rights allegations, you know, those, those, there’s a process for following that up. I understand that there are some allegations in the Alto Mayo project. Erm, I know CI [Conservation International] is investigating those. Erm, and you know whenever, you know, we, we, we receive a formal complaint we’ll investigate it. Erm. But that’s being investigated, you know through the CI process and I believe that, you know, we’ll, we’ll take action if it needs to happen. But we need to wait for that process to play through.”
Conservation International has been running the Alto Mayo REDD+ Project for the past 15 years. This is not a “process” of investigation as Antonioli wants us to believe. It’s a cover up. And it’s a cover up that Verra is apparently more than happy to go along with.
Big Polluters, carbon trading, and Verra
Before becoming CEO at Verra, Antonioli worked at EcoSecurities, a company that specialises in profiting from the carbon markets. Mark Stuart, the co-founder of EcoSecurities is on Verra’s board.
Verra was founded in 2007. On its LinkedIn account, Verra claims that it was founded by “environmental and business leaders”. Business leaders, maybe. Verra’s founding partners were The Climate Group, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
The Climate Group was set up by Steve Howard who is currently Vice Chairman, Sustainability, at the Singaporean state-owned investment company Temasek. Before setting up The Climate Group, Howard worked at WWF, where he created the Global Forest and Trade Network. This network (which is now called Forests Forward) exists to greenwash destructive logging operations, by pretending that Forest Stewardship Council certification miraculously makes the destruction go away.
Howard also co-founded the industry friendly We Mean Business Coalition and worked for six years at IKEA.
Mark Kenber was CEO of The Climate Group. He’s now CEO of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative and sits on Verra’s board.
The International Emissions Trading Association was set up by Big Polluters in 1999. It had its first meeting in Shell’s headquarters. It exists to promote carbon trading and to avoid meaningful action to address the climate crisis. Dirk Forrister, IETA’s CEO, sits on the board of Verra.
The World Economic Forum is a group of elites who fly every year to Davos where they promote their own interests at the expense of the rest of us - and the planet. Its “Great Reset” is, as Naomi Klein points out, a “a coronavirus-themed rebranding of all the things Davos does anyway, now hastily repackaged as a blueprint for reviving the global economy post-pandemic by ‘seeking a better form of capitalism.’”
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a trade association with more than 200 companies in its membership, including many of the world’s biggest polluters. AcelorMittal, Bayer, BP, Cargill, Chevron, Drax, Dupont, Eni, Equinor, Mitsubishi, Petronas, Shell, South Pole, TotalEnergies, to name a few.
In a 2011 report, Greenpeace wrote that,
“The WBCSD executive committee is a ‘Who’s Who’ of the world’s largest carbon-intensive companies who continue to profit from continued inaction on climate change.”
Between them, the Big Polluters and their allies in The Climate Group, IETA, the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development cooked up the Voluntary Carbon Standard, later renamed Verra.
Along with the rest of the carbon trading fiasco, it is a dangerous distraction from meaningful action on the climate crisis.
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Verra has been responsible for hundreds of millions of worthless carbon credits, sold for billions of dollars, coming to market. Their purchasers might now well be wondering who is accountable. Antonioli is the obvious fall-guy, and clearly with a heavy burden of culpability. But the lawyers will no doubt also be looking closely at the role of the Verra Board, which allowed the issuance of non-credible credits to continue unabated for more than a decade.