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SEC Staff Consulted With Green Financial Firm Accused Of Selling ‘Fictitious’ Carbon Credits

  Officials at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) met with representatives of a Swiss climate consultancy firm now under fire...

 Officials at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) met with representatives of a Swiss climate consultancy firm now under fire for allegedly selling “fictitious” carbon credits, a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found.

SEC officials met with a representative of South Pole in January 2022 to discuss how the SEC might estimate the costs companies would face if they were made to include data related to their greenhouse gas emissions in their regular financial disclosures, according to a publicly available SEC memorandum. The company, an international powerhouse whose clients include Gucci and Volkswagen, may have sold millions of dollars worth of carbon credits on the promise of environmental protection efforts that never actually occured, according to a report by Dutch investigative journalism outlet Follow the Money. 

South Pole manages the “world’s largest portfolio of carbon projects” and allows companies to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions elsewhere, allowing them to meet carbon emissions targets without radically altering their business model, according to its website. However, the firm appears to have sold credits based on its signature Kariba Forest Protection project in Zimbabwe, despite being aware that the project may have only generated one-third of the greenhouse gas offsets the company publicly claimed, Follow the Money reported.

South Pole was cited several times in a proposed regulation issued by the SEC in March 2022, which would mandate companies report climate-related data, as a source for the estimated compliance costs on companies. As recently as January 2023, South Pole published a blog post offering advice to companies about how to best understand the SEC’s proposed climate rules, noting that they were built on the “well-established recommendations from the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures (TFCD).”

A previous investigation by the DCNF indicated that members from the Task Force for Climate Related Disclosures appeared to have close personal and business connections with members of the U.S. Treasury Department and major Democratic donor Michael Bloomberg.

South Pole’s credits are based on an estimate of how much deforestation would occur if the company took no steps to protect a forest, according to FTM. However, the company found in June 2022 that it had overestimated the pace of deforestation, meaning it had issued credits worth 27 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions that it did not prevent.

The credits sold from Kariba generated 10% of the 232 million euros ($246.8 million) in revenue that South Pole reported in 2022, FTM reported.

The company argued that its project was independently verified by climate standards firm Verra, and that updates to the model it used were a routine part of Kariba’s “built-in, self correcting mechanism” to ensure that issued credits relate to actualized carbon offsets, in a February press release. Verra is facing allegations that some 90% of its rainforest offset credits did not translate into actual carbon reductions, a claim it rejects, following a joint investigation by British news outlet The Guardian, German news outlet Die Zeit and nonprofit investigative journalism outlet SourceMaterial published in January.

“While we welcome scrutiny of the VCM and take it very seriously. We do not, however, accept exaggerated and misleading reporting,” the company said in the same press release. “We strongly refute misleading statements around ‘over-issuances’ of verified carbon credits from one of our flagship climate action projects, the Kariba REDD+ forest protection project.”

Ultimately, the company suspended sales of Kariba credits in November 2022, but still made a more than half-a-million euro sale to accounting firm EY in September 2022, months after the company had discovered the overestimation, according to Follow the Money. At one internal meeting, co-founder Christian Dannecker was reportedly unable to give a straight answer about whether the carbon offsets guaranteed in the company’s credits existed in reality.

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