Vatican may sue carbon-offset company

Catholic News Service

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VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican is looking into taking legal action against a company that failed to create a promised Vatican Climate Forest in Hungary.

The reforestation project was supposed to make Vatican City State the first carbon-neutral country in the world by offsetting its greenhouse-gas emissions.

"We know that there still have been no trees planted," even though the company was repeatedly asked to carry through with their donation, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, told the Italian Catholic news agency, ASCA, April 22.

In 2007, the U.S.-based Planktos and its Hungarian partner, KlimaFa Ltd., donated to the Vatican enough mitigation credits to offset the Vatican's annual carbon dioxide production.

Planktos went out of business five months later, yet KlimaFa promised in September 2008 that the first saplings of the Vatican Climate Forest were going to be planted that December.

Father Benedettini told Catholic News Service, "We understand KlimaFa is not doing well (financially), but the good name of the Vatican is at stake.

"We are studying the possibility of pursuing legal action," he said.

The two companies had planned to earn money by selling greenhouse-gas mitigation credits to individuals and businesses. Whatever carbon dioxide emissions an individual or company cannot eliminate can be offset by planting trees or buying the carbon mitigation credits of a company that plants trees or takes other action to eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

When the Vatican accepted the donation in 2007, Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the monetary value of the Planktos-KlimaFa gift was "clearly symbolic. They get free publicity and the Holy See is provided with a way to encourage Catholics to do more to safeguard the planet."

The companies had promised to restore more than 600 acres of forests in Hungary along the Tisza River to offset emissions of carbon dioxide.

A portion of that reforestation project was to have been designated as the Vatican Climate Forest, and nearly 125,600 oak, white willow, black poplar and wild fruit trees were to have been planted by November 2008.

The Christian Science Monitor reported April 20 about failed schemes devised by Russ George, founder of both Planktos and KlimaFa, to make money from selling carbon offsets. The newspaper called the donation to the Vatican a "publicity strategy."

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