Sylvera’s carbon credits report greenwashes Big Polluters by failing to look at the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions
While promoting carbon credits and Sylvera’s own services, of course
Sylvera is a carbon credit ratings agency, incorporated in the UK in January 2020. “There is a historic problem with carbon markets lacking transparency and a big spread in quality has undermined legitimacy,” Sylvera’s Chief Executive Allister Furey recently told the Wall Street Journal.
Sylvera promises to weed out the “low quality” projects and states that its mission “is to be a source of truth for carbon markets”.
It’s a good sales pitch and Sylvera has raised a total of US$47.39 million. But the reality is that carbon markets remain murky and cannot be relied on to address the climate crisis. On the contrary, they are mechanism to ensure that burning fossil fuels can continue for as long as possible.
Carbon credits: Permission to pollute
A recent report from Sylvera asks whether it’s really the case that “companies purchase carbon credits or ‘offsets’ in order to avoid taking real action to cut greenhouse gas emissions”. This is the “license to pollute” argument that companies continue with business as usual and buy their way out of reducing their emissions.
“It’s a tempting narrative to believe,” Sylvera writes in its new report, “but it’s not true.”
To come to this conclusion, Sylvera looked at data from 100 companies. But importantly, it excluded a very large chunk of that data. Sylvera has not made the list of the companies that it looked at publicly available. Neither is the data that Sylvera used to reach its conclusion.
Here’s what Sylvera found:
“[O]n average, companies that buy carbon credits are simultaneously cutting their Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 6.2% per year. Meanwhile, companies that don’t use carbon credits are cutting emissions by only 3.4% per year.”
These figures are excluding purchases of carbon credits, so they are actual emissions reductions, not net emissions.
Where are scope 3 emissions?
The problem with Sylvera’s analysis is that it only looks at scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 1 emissions refers to emissions from sources owned or controlled by the company, including vehicles, boilers, and manufacturing technology. Scope 2 refers to indirect emissions from the energy the company buys, including electricity, steam, heating, and cooling.
Scope 3 refers to all the other emissions associated with the company’s product, including suppliers, vendors, use of the product, and how the product is disposed of.
“Emissions-wise, Scope 3 is nearly always the big one,” according to Deloitte. “For many businesses, Scope 3 emissions account for more than 70 percent of their carbon footprint.”
Scope 3 emissions are entirely left out of Sylvera’s report, on the grounds that they “can’t be directly controlled by the company under analysis”. But that means ignoring the vast majority of the greenhouse gas emissions that end up in the atmosphere.
There are other indications that the data is somewhat iffy. “The airlines sector also has achieved higher emissions reductions,” and adds that, “this is most likely attributable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sylvera writes.
No shit, Sherlock.
Sylvera’s report includes a look at “some of the fastest decarbonizing companies around the world”. The first of these companies is Bank of America.
Sylvera tells us that, “Bank of America has publicly committed to reaching net zero before 2050 across its financing activities, operations, and supply chain.”
What Sylvera doesn’t tell us is that Bank of America is the fourth largest financier of fossil fuels in the world. Between 2016 and 2021, Bank of America provided US$232 billion to fossil fuel companies and projects.
Meanwhile Bank of America retired 273,000 carbon credits from 2020 to 2021.
Another company is Audi - which is owned by Volkswagen, the company behind dieselgate. Audi and VW both manufacture SUVs - cars with higher emissions than smaller cars. And electric SUVs need more electricity and more raw materials.
The other two companies listed as “decarbonization leaders” are Visa, the global financial services company, and Telefónica, the Spanish multinational telecommunications company.
Fossil fuel corporations get a brief mention in Sylvera’s report. This sentence is written apparently without irony, or an awareness that burning fossil fuels is what causes the climate crisis:
“[S]ectors such as oil and gas tend to score well on decarbonization rates, which is likely attributable to their high annual emissions starting points—cutting anything is easier when it exists in excess.”
Obviously, looking at scope 1 and 2 emissions for the oil and gas sector is ridiculous. What matters are the scope 3 emissions - when the fossil fuels are burned. The only way that oil and gas corporations can reduce scope 3 emissions is by drilling less oil and gas.
Sylvera’s role, of course, is to promote carbon markets. Which is a mechanism to delay meaningful action on the climate crisis. Like leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Needless to say, Sylvera’s report includes several adverts for the company’s services.
The report ends with the logos of some of the Big Polluters that are Sylvera’s customers:
Earlier this month, ClientEarth filed a legal complaint against Cargill over deforestation and human rights violations in Brazil. In a statement about the legal complaint ClientEarth refers to a series of reports published since 2019 that document the problems with Cargill’s operations.
Mitsubishi is expanding its LNG operations, from 12 million tonnes in 2021, to 20 million tonnes a year by 2030.
Anglo American is a multinational mining corporation - the very definition of an extractivist company, and one with a terrible environmental and social record.
Shell, Chevron, and Equinor are among the biggest fossil fuel corporations on the planet. Equinor is currently hoping for approval from the UK government to drill the Rosebank oil and gas field off the coast of Scotland. It is also expanding its operations in the Arctic and elsewhere.
The majority owner of Equinor, the Norwegian state is (not coincidentally) the biggest supporter of REDD. Norway is the perfect example of a government using offsets to legitimise business as usual while using REDD to greenwash its destructive (but profitable) oil and gas operations.
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Great article, thank you!
And, often these big corporations, especially airlines, are purporting to use offsets to offset your travel emissions, which are scope 3 emissions. The "preventing deforestation in developing countries" is exactly the new form of colonialism, such as people being forced off their land in Mexico to provide "offsets" for California. Like I said before - want to create wild zones? - do it at home - depopulate the Great Lakes watershed, and the Rhine watershed, and the Nile, etc. The other counties are NOT YOURS!