Save Planet Earth, a UK-based cryptocurrency venture, has convinced investors it can make people rich and change the climate. But its tree-planting vision may be a long way off.
A carbon credit that represents a single ton of CO2 For an eye-watering $70,000, an NFT was sold at an auction as an NFT, carbon market experts were bewildered.
The credit was generated in Indonesia from the Rimba Raya reserve, one of the world’s largest initiatives to prevent emissions by protecting tropical peat swamp forests.
At that time, millions of credits from one project were trading on a single market for less than $20 each. The average price for a forest carbon offset was $4.73/t in the first half 2021. Why would anyone pay such an exorbitant premium?
Climate Home News searched for answers and connected with a community made up of cryptocurrency investors via messaging apps Telegram or Discord. Members were excited about the prospects for Save Planet Earth (SPE), a UK-based cryptocurrency venture that was behind the auction.
SPE has sold 1,000 carbon credits in limited editions as NFTs since November 2021. These credits were certified by Verra market standard and have an average price $1,770. The goal? To raise funds to plant billions of trees that will “significantly change the Earth’s landscape” and store carbon that can be sold as carbon credits.
Central to SPE’s investment case is a claim to have government contracts to plant more than a billion trees in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Climate Home conducted an investigation based on interviews of experts and government officials in these countries. It found that the claim is greatly exaggerated. While SPE’s founder has been striving to make his vision a reality, it is far from a done deal.
We have contracts to plant 1.1 billion trees
🤯Imagine how much Carbon can be sequestered!
We have already created the “WORLDS FIRST” #CCNFTsBut there are still many more things to do!
— Save Planet Earth (@SPE_Token_BSC) January 12, 2022
Imran Ali, 41, a project manager from Bradford in northern Britain, founded SPE in April 2021. He had previously worked in the waste- and renewable energy sectors.
The company is part a recent boom of cryptocurrency initiatives to improve carbon trading. These projects involve taking carbon credits from the market and putting them onto a blockchain. There they can be bought with cryptocurrency. This allows traders the ability to speculate on the price for a tonne. The demand for offsets will increase.
“We are trying to create a clean market for carbon credits… make it easy for people to obtain,” Ali told Climate Home in a phone interview from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, where he said he was visiting tree nurseries.
Ali described himself as “an environmentalist” and a father concerned about his daughter’s future – “not a crypto person”. He explained that cryptocurrencies gave him a way to raise awareness and fund carbon-saving projects. “So far it’s working.”
SPE claims it has attracted more investors than 80,000. Climate Home couldn’t verify this figure but supporters of the venture exchange hundreds upon a daily basis on Telegram. Ali said that SPE was in talks to fossil fuel and mining companies about how it could offset their carbon emissions with its carbon credits.
What is a crypto currency?
Cryptocurrencies can be used to make payments in a different way. It uses technology that allows virtual money to be sent directly without the use of a centralised system. This bypasses financial watchdogs and governments.
What is blockchain?
Each transaction of crypto assets is recorded and verified on a Blockchain. This computer-based system uses digital keys to prove who owns what. This makes blockchain networks transparent, and it is difficult to cheat.
Doesn’t blockchain use a huge amount of energy ?
Not necessarily. Blockchains used for supporting cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin consume a lot of energy. That’s because “mining” Bitcoin requires each node on the system to solve complex cryptographic puzzle to prevent hacking.
It’s this security design that is energy-intensive. Johannes Sedlmeir, a researcher at FIM in Germany, discusses the electricity use of blockchain technology. Blockchain applications for global carbon accounting have been explored.
SPE’s international investors work together on Telegram to spread hype and share motivational chats and memes with newcomers.
“I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO PUMPED IN MY LIFE,” Rob, known to some investors as SPE’s co-founder, wrote in June about the company’s prospects.
Every day, a “Save Planet Earth helper” account shares a “to-do list” for investors to keep SPE trending on crypto currency trading platforms and social media. Tasks include visiting SPE’s web pages to boost its search ranking on Google and upvoting comments on Reddit.
Any critical messages are quickly challenged, with administrators urging contributors to keep a “positive vibe”.
One particularly active investor who goes by the pseudonym of “Cryptist” is referred to as “SPE’s hype hero” for sharing ecstatic voice messages.
Ali, who is regularly called “a legend”, uses these channels to provide updates to his backers.
“Super stoked for Imran’s update from Pakistan. There is so much work going on out there […] Project is still ploughing ahead from a fundamentals standpoint, the potential here is mind blowing,” Neil Brady, of Canada, told the group earlier this month.
“SPE is a diamond in the rough,” Adam, a firefighter from Southampton, UK, told Climate Home, comparing it favourably to the rest of the “greed-based” crypto world. By investing in SPE, Adam said he was “doing [his] bit” to solve the climate crisis. He hoped to use SPE’s future carbon credits to offset his family’s carbon footprint.
“I talk about the environment more than I have ever done with my friends, with my children,” he said.
Climate Home spoke to a half-dozen SPE investors. Nearly all of them had invested in cryptocurrency before. None knew much about the carbon marketplace.
They trusted Ali to generate carbon credit that would increase in price and make them money. Most people saw saving the planet as secondary.
One of the few women active in SPE’s investor community, Hannah Lynn, of the UK, said she started buying cryptocurrencies to make some extra cash but invested in SPE to support climate action. “I think SPE is a really great investment because carbon credits are going to get mandatory,” she told Climate Home.
In marketing material for investors, Save Planet Earth cites analysis by the OECD which suggests that a carbon price of $147 a tonne is needed by 2030 to cut global emissions to net zero by 2050. “This is an ever-growing market that will be worth trillions of dollars over the next decade,” it wrote.
In practice, carbon pricing does not represent the only tool for climate policy. While analysts expect the voluntary carbon market to grow, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts a much lower price of $11/t in 2030 – unless the quality criteria are tightly restricted.
SPE’s ambition doesn’t stop at carbon credits. The company says it aims to be “self-sufficient” and is working on developing its own renewable-powered blockchain, an app to monitor its afforestation projects and a carbon credit exchange where assets can only be purchased with SPE’s own cryptocurrency.
Investors that spoke to Climate Home praised the company’s transparency, leadership and qualifications.
On Telegram, SPE boasted about the team’s “several PhDs, MBAs and carbon fund managers” which it said made it “the most qualified climate science team in crypto with decades of experience in the environmental sector”.
But those named as “the core team” on SPE’s website act as advisors or contractors to the company and aren’t involved in its day to day running.
Product manager Sajid Salih, of Sri Lanka, told Climate Home earlier this month he hadn’t been in touch with the core “in a while” and was unable to provide information about the structure of the company.
Ali told Climate Home over the phone SPE was run by volunteers, including developers, “who are passionate about the environment”. In a later email signed by Ali and partly attributed to an unnamed volunteer, SPE insisted it had “a proper team comprising of carbon, technology, forestry, renewable energy, and crypto experts”, but that the company’s structure was “confidential”.
“SPE is doing really well and what it has achieved in a short time is immense, while also launching additional environmental projects. Something must be going right if that’s the case,” it said in an email.
SPE was launched nine years later. said it had contracts to plant 1.1bn trees: one billion trees in Pakistan – a tenth of the country’s national target – 100 million trees in Sri Lanka and one million in the Maldives. Ali wrote on SPE’s official Telegram channel this month that the Pakistani government had “already given us the green light to carry on with our 1 billion tree planting initiative”. These boasts were at best premature.
Pakistan’s climate minister Malik Amin Aslam told Climate Home in an email he had never heard of SPE and was “quite surprised” by its claim. Hassan Ali Sukhera, national project director for the country’s flagship “ten billion tree tsunami”, said he had met with SPE but no agreement had been signed.
Ali corrected his story in a follow up email. He said officials at the tree tsunami initiative and local authorities in Kashmir had “no objections” to the project and there was “no need for any agreement with the climate change ministry”. He stated that SPE had not been granted permission to generate carbon credits on Pakistani public land, but that agreements had been made with private landowners. This he would not reveal.
SPE claims to have planted between 25,000-27,000 trees, but none of them have been used for carbon credits. “We just do it to build partnerships and trust,” Ali said.
🌏SPE Nursery Operations
🇱🇰Sri Lanka 4
Incorporation of legal companies Proposals received. Confirmed locations, IDed staff and recruited.
Next step: Lease Docs and equipment procurement. Native species sourcing.
🌲Party just starting pic.twitter.com/Z1AkPcieQg
— Save Planet Earth (@SPE_Token_BSC) January 17, 2022
SPE signed a MoU with the Maldives Integrated Tourism Development Corporation, a government-owned company that focuses on the growth of the tourism industry. This was done without the knowledge or involvement of the environment ministry. The deal didn’t include any provisions for generating carbon credits.
Mohamed Nasheed, Maldives’ former president and a long standing climate advocate, told Climate Home that planting one million trees in the Maldives was a “huge” target. The tiny island state is 99% ocean. The land available for tree-planting is limited.
“The Maldives want to plant trees and create opportunities to do so. But we would like credible people to come and do credible things,” Nasheed told Climate Home.
Climate Home saw a May letter from Kosala Welikannage, the director at the Central Environmental Authority in Sri Lanka, that introduced SPE to six tea plantations. Climate Home was told by Welikannage that the agency had supported SPE. SPE in planting some trees on Earth DayIt was no more in contact with the initiative.
🌲100,000,000 TREE-PLANTING INTIVATIVE CONFIRMED🌲
#SavePlanetEarthSRI LANKA’s pioneering 100 MILLION tree-planting program is led by
$SPEThis is setting new standards, doing things that have never been done before. #crypto
— Save Planet Earth (@SPE_Token_BSC) May 18, 2021
Ali said he had “enough leads” in Sri Lanka to meet the 100m tree target by planting fruit trees such as jackfruit, mangos, durians and avocados, on private tea plantations, which would allow SPE to issue carbon credits. The company said it was “actively seeking planting locations”.
Meredith Martins, assistant professor of North Carolina State University, was puzzled at the choice of fruit trees. Martins has studied agroforestry in Sri Lanka and raised eyebrows about it. They are not the best option for storing carbon and while they can be good for communities, she said they needed to be “intensively managed”.
Ali said local people were being asked to monitor planting sites and that its community management plan was “classified” and that information will be made public “when necessary”.
For Adriana Vidal, senior forest policy officer with IUCN and chair of Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration, the information provided by SPE “is not enough to ensure the environmental integrity of these projects”.
“If you want to sell carbon credits you have to make sure that they are grounded in reality,” Vidal said. Clear agreements with land owners, authorities, and stakeholders are necessary. “It’s not really serious if you don’t have this information in place.”
When Climate Home put it to Ali that he was misleading investors, he replied that SPE was “in its early stages” and that the pandemic had made the work “really difficult”. It was “a huge undertaking” but he insisted SPE “will achieve everything that we said we want to achieve” and “is being regarded as a serious environmental outfit” by those it has struck agreements with.
SPE is just one of many crypto ventures that have seized on the growing demand for carbon offsets. Toucan, a nonprofit crypto initiative based in Switzerland, says its technology has allowed more than 18 million tonnes of carbon offsets to be tied to digital cryptocurrency tokens.
The supporters claim that this will make the carbon market transparent, verifiable, and easier to access for individuals as well as companies looking to offset their emissions. To trade carbon credits in the traditional way, you need an account with a special registry. This makes it difficult for small buyers.
Although experts in the carbon market are open to the idea in principle they are skeptical in practice. Many are concerned about the rise in low-quality digital credits.
“The tokenisation of carbon credits should not come at the expense of skimping on environmental integrity,” said Ingo Puhl, co-founder of carbon offset provider South Pole.
One of the main concerns is that putting credits on a Blockchain removes it from control of the carbon standard that issued them. This “opens the door for possible misuse,” Puhl said.
Standard Verra has distanced itself from the trend of tokenising its credits, warning that once they are traded on a blockchain, it can no longer vouch for their environmental benefits.
Comment:Why I refuse to join the carbon offsetting lie with polluters
The use of carbon credit to offset fossil fuel-burning emissions is controversial. There is a long history of forest carbon projects not delivering the claimed climate benefits – and a certification process to try and address these flaws.
Gilles Dufrasne stated that carbon credits traded on a blockchain are not better for the environment.,Carbon Market Watch’s policy officer. “It’s just the same thing re-packaged” or worse a “greenwashing” machine to give “a crypto shine to poor quality credits”.
Owen Hewlett is chief technical officer at Gold Standard Co-founder of Climate Ledger Initiative (a platform to bring together technology and climate communities) was more optimistic about the technology’s potential.
Hewlett said that while carbon market incumbents have many ideas on how to use Blockchain to advance climate action as well as democratise financing, crypto entrepreneurs weren’t listening to them.
“It seems more about catching the cryptocurrency bubble than using that technology to do good. And that would be a missed opportunity.”
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Source: Climate Change News