Criteria for Carbon Offsets
Carbon offsets can feel overwhelming, whether you’ve been around them for years or you are just starting out. There are numerous projects available with many nuances between them, and some voluntary corporate buyers don’t know where to start. This series is intended to provide a framework for thinking about 4 different criteria among voluntary offsets.
The three most recognized carbon standards for projects in the U.S. are the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the American Carbon Registry (ACR). Outside of the U.S., the VCS, CSA CleanProjects and Gold Standard are the most used of the voluntary offset standards. Each carbon offset standard issues protocols (also called methodologies) that define how projects are designed and operated. Each has robust criteria that ensure that each carbon offset generated is additional to a business-as-usual situation, real, measurable, verifiable, enforceable and permanent.
Additionality refers to the fact that the offset project must reduce more greenhouse gases than would have happened in a business-as-usual scenario. Each project is checked to ensure that there are real emission reductions realized. Emission reductions must be measurable and verifiable; there must be standards and protocols in place that explain in detail how to calculate the emission reductions, and these standards must be adhered to, with all calculations verified by a third party. Projects are verified as permanent by placing legal protections around the projects and enforcing hefty fines if rules are violated.
Some new standards have recently entered the space, bringing technology and efficiencies that are innovative but remain untested. Tried and true programs like the standards listed above include rigorous criteria to address critical issues like permanence, additionality and leakage. Furthermore, each employs third-party, public, transparent registries to track each credit and ensure it’s fully accounted for, only once. While the quality between established standards is relatively interchangeable, purchasers should be cautious about programs that do not require independent auditing and tracking mechanisms.