Offsets must be legitimate for the carbon offset market to fulfill its purpose. To ensure that, third parties called registries inspect offset projects to verify their impact.
Registries act as environmental accountants.
Their main priority is to ensure that every tonne of CO2 reduced or removed from the atmosphere equals one carbon offset issued. This process builds authenticity in the market and limits double-counting, a process where the same offset is sold twice. Registries also ensure that each offset produced meets the constantly-updating quality standards.
When an offset project applies to a registry, a validation/verification body (VVB) estimates the volume of emissions reduced and ensures that they are all legitimate. VVBs employ environmental engineers to look at the projects’ methods and ensure that the offsets are up to the current standard.
Each year they revisit the project to monitor and verify that the reductions/removals are still taking place as expected. This ongoing verification is critical because it ensures that the offsets are real, permanent, and additional.
If the registries themselves are like accountants, the VVBs that ensure legitimacy are like auditors.
Verra created the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS). As the world's most popular carbon offset standard, it has certified over 2,000 projects in over 90 countries. These projects have cumulatively reduced or removed over 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The VCS program is designed for use by any project type as long as it can certifiably generate climate-positive impacts for our planet.
Gold Standard has set a precedent for high-quality environmental action. They have cumulatively reduced or removed over 400 million metric tons (Mt) of greenhouse gas emissions in more than 60 countries since being established in 2003. The Gold Standard Impact Registry tracks environmental assets like carbon offsets and the associated sustainable development impacts of Gold Standard-certified interventions.
CARB (California Air Resources Board) ensures businesses stay in line with California's air pollution laws and regulations. Its ultimate goal is to protect public health, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do this, CARB prioritizes the innovation and regulation of clean transportation and carbon removal technology.
Some of its major programs include:
- The California cap-and-trade program reduces greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on carbon.
- The Low Carbon Fuel Standard reduces transportation emissions by encouraging the use of cleaner fuels.
- The Zero Emission Vehicle program promotes the use of electric vehicles.
CARB is currently researching and developing new technologies to reduce emissions that come from transportation. As a result of their efforts, cars today are 99 percent cleaner than in the 1970s, meaning less air pollution overall, shorter hospital stays, and fewer days missed from school and work due to disease.
The voluntary carbon markets rely on registries to make sure that offsets are legitimate and counted correctly.
These organizations play a crucial role in maintaining the credibility of the carbon market. Verification is tedious and time-consuming, but the end goal of a more transparent and trustworthy market is worth the cost.
With registries maintaining the issuance of offsets, criticisms will gradually fade as the market continues to improve in its transparency & accountability.
To learn more about carbon offsets or to get involved, consider subscribing below, or offset your emissions here.