Project standards must meet some basic criteria to be considered eligible for support. The criteria and accepted standards are explained below.
In concept, the measure of additionality is simple: Would the project have happened anyway? If the answer to that question is yes, the project is probably not additional. Carbon offsets are only effective if the funding is used for a project that reduces additional emissions equal to what you can’t reduce yourself.
Offsets must be “real, additional, and permanent.” Many offsets sold are for the reduction in carbon over multiple years of changed behavior. There must be assurances that the reduction estimate is accurate, that it will occur for the life of the project credit, and that other assumptions are reasonable.
Certification should be done at the start of a project (validation) and again when it starts producing the benefit (verification). For forestry projects, for example, the trees have to mature before they absorb significant amounts of carbon.
Adequate publicly available registration systems and enforcement should ensure that a carbon offset is sold only once.
Some carbon projects bring other benefits such as community economic development, health, and sustainable livelihoods in rural communities. While not strictly required, we actively seek these out and promote these benefits.
Voluntary Carbon Standard
The Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) Association is a non-profit organization founded in Switzerland. The VCS focuses on greenhouse gas reduction attributes only and does not require projects to have additional environmental or social benefits. The VCS is broadly supported by the carbon offset industry (project developers, large offset buyers, verifiers, projects consultants). The VCS was launched in 2007 following a review by a 19-member Steering Committee made up of members from nongovernmental organizations, auditors, industry associations, project developers and offset buyers. The VCS aims to keep costs for validation and verification low while still ensuring quality requirements.
Additionality: VCS guidelines require that a project must not be currently mandated by any enforced law, statute or other regulatory framework. that the project must demonstrate that it faces capital constraints or a institutional barriers that can be overcome by additional revenues from credit sales, that the project is not requesting credits for what is common practice in the sector or region when compared with other projects that received no carbon finance. Learn more about the standard here.
The Gold Standard Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in Switzerland. The Gold Standard (GS) was developed under the leadership of the World Wildlife Fund, and requires social, economic, and environmental benefits of its carbon offset projects. The GS has a very well developed stakeholder process to ensure that emission reduction projects are real and provide the promised benefits. The GS for the regulated European markets (CDM) was launched in 2003 after a two year period of consultation with stakeholders, governments, NGOs, and the private sector from over 40 countries.The voluntary standard was launched in 2006, and is endorsed by 56 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The GS is generally accepted as the most stringent, due to its clearly defined additionality rules, required third-party auditing, separation verification and validation, CDM compliant governance structure.
Additionality: GS follow the CDM protocols, which requires identifying realistic and credible alternatives to the proposed project activity that are compliant with current laws and regulations, determining that the proposed project activity is not the most economically or financially attractive, an analysis of barriers that prevent the implementation of the proposed project activity or do not prevent the implementation of one of the other alternatives, and an analysis as to whether the proposed project activity is ‘commonly practiced’ by assessing the extent of diffusion of the proposed project activity. Learn more about the standard here.
Plan Vivo is managed by the Plan Vivo Foundation, a Scottish a non-profit focused on promoting actions to reconcile human development and environmental change. Plan Vivo is an offset project method for small scale land use change and forestry projects with a focus on promoting sustainable development and improving rural livelihoods and ecosystems. Plan Vivo works very closely with rural communities, emphasizes participatory design, ongoing stakeholder consultation, and the use of native species. The Plan Vivo Foundation certifies and issues credits called Plan Vivo Certificates. Plan Vivo works with local nongovernmental organizations who function as project developers and administer payments to local farmers based on the achievement of ‘monitoring targets’.
Additionality: The additionality tools for Plan Vivo are project-based. Additionality may be demonstrated through an analysis of the barriers to implementing activities in the absence of the project, including lack of finances, lack of technical expertise, or prohibitive political or cultural environments. Only native species, which are unlikely to be planted without financial incentives in many countries where seedlings are difficult to find, may be planted. Commercial forestry projects are excluded from participation. Learn more about the standard here.
Climate, Community and Biodiversity
The Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard was developed by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) with feedback and suggestions from independent experts. CCBA is a partnership of non-governmental organizations, corporations and research institutes. The CCB is a project design standard, intended to be applied early on during a project’s design phase to ensure robust project design and local community and biodiversity benefits. It does not verify quantified carbon offsets nor does it provide a registry. The CCB focus exclusively on land-based bio-sequestration and mitigation projects and require social and environmental benefits from such projects. Because CCB is a project design standard only, project developers who want to sell verified emissions have to also apply another standard to get certification and registration of their offsets.
Additionality: Project developers must prove that existing laws or regulations would not have required that project activities be undertaken anyway. The standard also allows for project developers to make claims when a law is in existence but is not enforced e.g. if heavy logging happens in an area that is pro forma under protection. The project proponents must also provide analyses (poverty assessments, farming knowledge assessments, remote sensing analysis, etc) showing that without the project, improved land-use practices would be unlikely to materialize, sue to financial barriers, lack of capacity, institutional or market barriers, or common practice. Learn more about the standard here.
Founded in 1998 by the Ecologica Institute, Social Carbon draws on the principle of sustainable livelihoods. Its project design and evaluation include a six-pronged focus on carbon, social, human, biodiversity, natural, and financial benefits and impacts. The approach is that no project will succeed without careful monitoring of the sustainability of each of these areas. Projects are monitored annually and must meet continuous improvement standards.
Additionality: Social Carbon focuses on the six-pronged benefits of projects and their progress on an annual basis, but does not adequately assess additionality when used on its own. For this reason, ClimatePath's policy is to accept Social Carbon projects when paired with another standard, typically VCS. Learn more about the Social Carbon standard here.
Climate Action Reserve
Climate Action Reserve (CAR) is a division of the California Climate Action Registry, a private non-profit organization originally formed by the State of California. The CAR develops standardized greenhouse gas reduction project protocols for specific industry sectors that are based on internationally recognized best practices. They issue Carbon Reduction Tons (CRT) and are recognnized by the Vountary Carbon Standard Associaton (VCS). The ClimatePath Ecologic Fund does not support CAR standards for livestock or landfills, since credits subsidize industries that should be required to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions. Only forestry projects are listed on the ClimatePath website. The protocols are created by stakeholder work groups representing the industry, government, science, and environmental sectors, and are vetted through a formal public review and comment process before being published for public use. Owners and developers of greenhouse gas emission reduction projects register their projects, after demonstrating that it meets specific criteria. After that, a project is verified by an independent third party to ensure the project has met the protocol standards and to accurately quantify the greenhouse gas reductions.
Additionality: Additionality measure vary by specific sector. For forestry, projects must meet a specific set of criteria developed by the California legislature to be eligible. Projects must be conservation-based using natural forest management practices, based on the restoration of native tree cover on lands that were previously forested (but have been out of tree cover for a minimum of ten years) or based on specific actions to prevent the conversion of native forests to a non-forest use, such as agriculture or other commercial development. Project developers are required to demonstrate how their project creates change vs the status quo or likely outcome. Learn more about the standard here.
BEF Clean Energy
The offsets offered via the nonprofit BEF are independently certified to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the development of new renewable energy facilities. BEF standards require that the carbon benefits must be real, verifiable, permanent, and enforceable. The project must reduce greenhouse gas emissions below levels produced by “common practice” technologies (such as coal fired plants), and the project provider must demonstrate that the funding is a necessary factor in moving the project forward, that it is not the least-cost option, that it would have a lower than acceptable rate of return without climate related funding, or that that it faces significant implementation barriers (such as institutional, organizational, cultural, capacity related, or community resistance to new technologies). The technology used in the project must also be considered efficient, effective, and valid.
Additionality: Avoiding issues related to double counting or non-additionality in renewable energy is a key concern. The renewable energy credits and the electricity from which the credits are derived cannot be used simultaneously to meet a local, state, or federal energy mandate, other legal requirement or mandated cap-and-trade program, or any voluntary but legally binding cap-and-trade program. Special attention is also paid to ensuring that the renewable energy has one "user", and that multiple parties do not claim the renewable energy benefit.
Community Development Verified Emissions Reductions (CD-VERs) enable high quality, community based micro-projects to qualify for carbon offset support by backing them with another high-quality VCS-certified project. ClimatePath is excited to participate in this new, innovative method of bringing projects to market which are not large enough to warrant a standard VCS or other certification, but are fighting climate change while bringing community benefits to those in need.
Additionality: Community projects are carefully screened for additionality and follow established protocols, but often contain an element of uncertainty or are not able to afford certification. Through the CD-VER program, a second VCS-certified credit is also acquired and retired, to act as insurance in case the primary credit does not reach 100% of the carbon reduction goal.
Credible Carbon is administered by the Promoting Access to Carbon Equity (PACE) Centre, a South African based non-profit organization focused on facilitating emission reduction projects in Southern Africa to help reduce poverty. The overarching aim is to channel as much money as possible towards energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that also alleviate poverty. All PACE projects comply with the principles of the Gold Standard for carbon trading, and with the proposed UK standards for voluntary projects. Please note: The organization is relatively small, and while project design follow Gold Standard protocols, third party auditing and verification is not currently done, and overlap exists between project administration and verification.
Additionality: All projects are designed to result in a quantifiable reduction in both greenhouse gas emissions and in poverty, and follow CDM protocols, which requires identifying whether realistic and credible alternatives to the proposed project activity exist, determining that the proposed project activity is not the most economically or financially attractive as a stand alone, and an analysis of whether the proposed project activity is ‘commonly practiced’ by assessing barriers and the extent of diffusion of the proposed project activity.