First, the bad news. Carbon emissions are unavoidable — every business produces carbon emissions contributing to climate-impacting greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The good news is that while carbon is inevitable, there’s still a lot we can do to fight climate change. Every efficiency, sustainability, and eco-friendly measure is important to reduce harmful emissions. And remediation in the form of carbon offsetting can bring our businesses to the ultimate goal of net zero carbon.
In case you’re skeptical, you can be assured that carbon offsetting is legit. It’s not a scheme to make big polluters feel better about themselves, and it’s not another form of greenwashing. Carbon offsets are a proven measure to reduce greenhouse gas overall, protecting our planet from the harmful effects of climate change. Not only that, but carbon offset projects are also responsible for measuring and reporting on their effectiveness — at risk of losing their verified status.
Verification versus Certification of Carbon Offsets
You might have noticed that some carbon offsets are “verified”, and others are “certified”… Here’s the difference:
- Verified Emissions Reductions (VERs) are carbon offsets produced under a voluntary standard. Organizations can choose to buy either CERs or VERs in the voluntary carbon market.
- Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) are traded by businesses in mandatory compliance markets to meet their emissions targets.
Either way, if you buy verified or certified carbon offsets, you’re guaranteed genuine reductions in carbon emissions!
Voluntary Carbon Market
Companies like yours can reduce their environmental impact, even if they’re currently not able to reduce all of their emissions. The voluntary carbon market allows businesses to buy carbon offsets (VERs or CERs) for those unavoidable emissions.
Mandatory Compliance Carbon Market
It’s also true that some companies are reducing their carbon emissions because the regulations where they operate say they must. In the European Union, for example, companies in oil and gas have to participate in the Emissions Trading System (ETS). Some compliance markets will allow companies to buy the same carbon credits as voluntary programs to meet their emission targets.
No matter the reason you want to buy carbon offsets, we’re here for you! Learn more about how EcoCart can help you access verified carbon offset projects today.
Carbon Standards Overview
Both types of carbon markets — voluntary and mandatory — have standards for carbon offset projects. The standards are set and overseen by independent verification bodies that have stringent rules projects need to meet to be accredited by them. There isn’t a consensus (yet) on which one standard to adopt globally, but the ones we’ll cover are widely used.
Honestly, it can be confusing. We’re not the only ones that feel strongly that there needs to be one single international standard — so you can spend less time reading articles like these, and more time finding the right carbon projects! But until that happens, here’s what you need to know.
Voluntary Carbon Standards
Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)
The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program, from third-party organization Verra, is the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas crediting program. Verra is one organization trying to create a global standard for how carbon credits are verified.
Gold Standard (GS)
Carbon removal projects designed to the Gold Standard are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and verified by SustainCERT — a digital verification solution intended to drive mass adoption.
American Carbon Standard (ACR)
The American Carbon Standard ensures the voluntary market’s carbon offset projects are registered and verified and oversees the cap-and-trade program in California.
Climate Action Reserve (CAR)
The Climate Action Reserve is a carbon offset registry for the North American carbon market. They provide standards, oversee third-party verification bodies, issue carbon credits generated from projects, and track how the credits change hands in a system open to the public.
Mandatory Compliance Carbon Standards
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism is a carbon offset program under the Kyoto Protocol that allows countries to fund carbon emissions reduction projects in other countries, claiming the saved emissions toward their own emissions targets.
Carbon standards and the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol made emissions trading possible, creating the standards for which CERs from a CDM project can be used in a compliance market. While VERs are independent of government commitments under the Kyoto protocol, they can be created under the same standards, but reflect a business’ corporate social responsibility.
How Does a Carbon Offset Project Become Verified/Certified?
It’s a big job to protect the integrity of the carbon offset industry. Fortunately, there’s a robust and transparent process in place for how carbon credits are verified against an organization’s standards. This part is critical, so let us walk you through it.
Project Planning and Proposal
This is where a project developer would estimate the climate impact of their project, plan the design, and assess it against the standards of the verification body.
The first review of draft reports and assessments (including monitoring plans) is completed by the verification organization, and the project developer gets the green light!
Validation by a Third-Party
A third-party organization (like Verra, CDM, or the Gold Standard) will conduct an independent assessment, including a site visit, to confirm that the project meets the standards’ requirements.
Final Project Review and Approval
With the validation complete, the body gives the project its certified/verified status! Now, the project developer can start selling the credits generated through a carbon registry.
The project developer implements the monitoring plan and submits the annual and monitoring reports to the verification body. This step is critical to ensure the project is accomplishing what it set out to do, and is still in good standing.
Third-Party Validation of Project Performance
Another third-party validation and verification organization will independently assess the impact of the project every five years to confirm it’s in line with the standard.
Why Verified and Certified Carbon Offset Projects are Important
Anyone can claim they’re offsetting carbon — and even get funding to do it. But if the carbon offsets aren’t verified, there’s no guarantee that the project will do anything, let alone reduce greenhouse gases!
In order to be effective, carbon offsets must be:
- Additional; the carbon captured is additional if wouldn’t have happened anyway and is being done specifically to generate carbon offset credits
- Permanent; meaning the carbon captured isn’t released back into the atmosphere in a reversal, such as reforesting projects burning down.
Carbon Offsets and Climate Change
Climate change is a result of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trapping heat and slowly raising the overall temperature of the planet — causing extremes in weather patterns, wreaking havoc on habitats, and jeopardizing our future on Earth.
Carbon offsets are one important piece of the puzzle to prevent a global climate catastrophe. That’s why the carbon offset verification process is critical! Projects are required to demonstrate, from planning to execution to monitoring, that they have a real impact using real data.
It’s not just about emissions either, carbon offset projects can increase the quality of life in nearby communities. These projects create jobs, improve people’s livelihoods, and provide economic stability. Many help underdeveloped communities access clean water, prevent agricultural deforestation while increasing available nutrition, and decrease the need for fossil fuels.
The credits created from the offset project are also trackable in a registry, meaning they can only be claimed once. Peace of mind for carbon offset buyers and the public who care about reducing emissions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about how carbon offsets are verified? It’s a complex subject, but we’ve got you covered!
How are carbon offsets verified?
Carbon offset verification involves a rigorous inspection and approval process from a third-party organization ensuring the project meets the standards accepted by the carbon market, including being additional and permanent.
What is a carbon offset project?
A carbon offset project is a practice or process that is proven to remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. They often involve reforestation (planting trees) but can be carbon-neutralizing agricultural or even industrial carbon-capture and storage practices.
What is a verified carbon offset?
If a carbon offset project has been verified, that means it’s proven to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Each metric ton of emissions reduced is able to be claimed as a carbon credit.
Businesses buy carbon credits called Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) to neutralize their emissions. They calculate the greenhouse gases created during their operations, then buy VCUs to offset the metric tons they created. Some eco-conscious companies buy more and become net carbon negative, meaning they remove more carbon than they emit — a practice we would love to see catch on.
Who can certify carbon credits?
Carbon credits can be certified by accredited organizations, including:
- The Gold Standard
- Climate Action Reserve
- American Carbon Registry
- SCS Global Services
Whether you want to buy verified carbon offsets on the voluntary market or you are regulated by the compliance market — ensuring the carbon credits you buy are from a verified carbon offset project is critical.
Luckily, there are many independent organizations that do the work to ensure these offset projects are legit. Look for the seal of approval of reputable organizations next time you’re on the carbon market, and breathe easy knowing you’re doing your part to reduce carbon emissions.