A New Effort to Ensure Carbon Offsets Mean Something
Carbon credits have become ubiquitous. Building owners have long been able to purchase offsets to make up for onsite energy use (as incentivized in LEED) or embodied carbon (as required by the Living Building Challenge). But now even everyday passengers can pay an extra dollar or two to make up for the emissions of an airplane flight.
At the same time, carbon credits are often disparaged for providing consumers and corporations with a convenient way to continue business as usual: critics say we are throwing money into a poorly regulated marketplace with questionable credentials, and then claiming to be net zero.
Now the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market has set new standards to identify carbon credits of “high quality”—a commonly used term without a clear definition. After completing a public process to develop a broadly accepted definition and accountability mechanism, the council has released final Core Carbon Principles and an assessment framework. It will also publish further guidance specific to different types of credits (examples include cookstove projects and forestry projects) in the first half of 2023 and intends to start labeling credits by the third quarter.
The Core Carbon Principles (CCPs) are broken into three categories—governance (principles one through four), emissions impact (principles five through eight), and sustainable development (principles nine and ten):
- Effective governance—Governance should ensure transparency and accountability.
- Tracking—Programs must create or use an existing public registry of the credits they have issued.
- Transparency—This calls for public information framed in ways that are comprehensible by non-experts.
- Robust, independent third-party validation and verification—Third-party involvement needs to be integral to the program.
- Additionality—This means the emissions avoided or removed through the credit program would not have been avoided or removed without the program.
- Permanence—If the benefits turn out not to be permanent, programs must “compensate reversals,” according to the guidance.
- Robust quantification of emission reductions and removals—The requirements here include “conservative approaches” to avoid overselling benefits.
- No double counting—This covers a variety of cheating techniques.
- Sustainable development benefits and safeguards—The guidance calls for “social and environmental safeguards” and positive sustainability benefits.
- Contribution to net-zero transition—Programs must not rely on strategies that “lock in” high-emitting activities.
The assessment framework provides more detail along with criteria the Integrity Council will use to identify “CCP-eligible” credits. It also includes a section describing attributes that carbon-credit programs may promote, including resilience measures and UN Sustainable Development Goals impacts. An assessment procedure document describes the process that programs will participate in to be labeled CCP-eligible.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently highlighted data on climate-action feasibility (Figure SPM.7) suggesting that so-called nature-based solutions that remove carbon from the atmosphere—things like reduced conversion of ecosystems, afforestation, reforestation, and regenerative agriculture—are the most promising mitigation opportunities after solar and wind installations. Nature-based projects are often funded through voluntary carbon markets—and many come with resilience co-benefits—so validating the integrity of these credits and ensuring they do not cause unintended social or environmental harms could help secure a better future for humanity and the planet.
Melton, P. (2023, March 21). A New Effort to Ensure Carbon Offsets Mean Something. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/newsbrief/new-effort-ensure-carbon-offsets-mean-something