The head of the world’s biggest carbon credits certifier is set to step down as the organisation enters the “next phase” after receiving criticism over the quality of its products.
The CEO of Verra, David Antonioli, has announced he will leave his post after 15 years during which the company issued over one billion carbon credits, in theory stopping a billion tons of carbon dioxide from worsening the climate crisis.
But under his tenure, Verra has also been repeatedly accused of approving “worthless” offsets which could harm climate commitments.
Antonioli, who has strenuously rebutted any accusation, has not given a reason for his departure but said he would be taking holidays and sabbaticals.
Verra’s recently-appointed president Judith Simon will replace him as interim CEO next month.
Carbon credits – or offsets – are when companies, governments and people pay for someone else to cut greenhouse gas emissions on their behalf, so they can take credit for this climate action.
Certifiers like Verra are supposed to check whether projects actually reduce the number of emissions that they claim.
Antonioli has overseen a period of tremendous growth for the company. In the last two years alone Verra’s annual revenues have more than tripled, reaching $40.5 million a year. In 2021 it made 92% of its money by taking a cut from the sale of carbon credits.
String of accusations
But at the same time, mounting concerns have been raised over a string of projects approved by Verra.
Climate Home News revealed last March how dozens of Chinese rice cultivation projects on the Verra registry were riddled with accounting loopholes and questionable integrity claims.
Polluters, including Shell, had bought hundreds of thousands of carbon credits generated by the projects before Verra put them on hold pending a review.
Previously, an investigation by the Guardian accused Verra of listing largely worthless rainforest credits. According to independent studies, most projects overstated the threats to forests which calculations are based on, inflating their climate benefits.
Verra strongly disputed the investigation’s findings and said it was already working to transition all forest projects to one updated methodology.
The new rules are currently being reviewed by an external auditor before getting the final approval towards the end of the year.
But experts told Climate Home that the new rules will not fix the conflicts of interest which undermine these programmes and that the way Verra is carrying out its review of the rules is flawed.
Announcing the CEO’s departure, the chair of Verra’s board said “Antonioli had an immeasurable impact on Verra and on the global climate action community”.
“We are grateful for what he has contributed and are glad that we will be able to draw on his expertise as Verra enters its next phase”, he added.