In order to ensure that offset projects result in environmental benefits of the highest quality the informed offset buyer and reputable carbon offset vendors rely on certified third party agencies to verify offset projects against strict international standards.
Typically project standards establish criteria for additionally, reliability, environmental benefit claims, documentation and potential benefits leakage. Additionally, standards also include provisions for periodic monitoring of delivery of benefits as well as an evaluation mechanism after project completion. Here are some of the leading standards currently employed in the offset field.
The CDM mechanism is the only offset project vehicle available to countries that are legally bound to deliver certain reductions under the Kyoto Agreement. It is an excellent quality standard but because of its inherent design to address the needs of large countries it carries a much higher cost of certification and is typically suited only to very large initiatives (more on Kyoto and CDM).
The Gold Standard was developed by more than 40 NGOs as well as some professional associations and is based on the CDM standard. Its objective is to enlarge the scope of the CDM standard in order to maximize the sustainable development impact of projects. The standard achieves these objectives by including an evaluation of social and local impacts as well as possible negative impacts of a project. The Gold Standard also favours renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and does not allow emission treatment projects.
Like the CDM mechanism, Gold Standard project are complex and expensive to certify and thus this standard is typically used for larger projects.
The Voluntary Gold Standard is a simplified version of the Gold Standard that seeks to reduce project certification cost in order to allow smaller project to qualify while maintaining high offset quality standards.
The Voluntary Carbon Standard was developed by the The Climate Group, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the World Economic Forum Global Greenhouse Register (WEF) and was first released in March 2006. The standard specifically targets the measurement and standardization of emission reductions created by offset projects. The standard also creates a normalized unit of measure – the Verified Emissions Reduction unit or VRU – that facilitates comparison and quantification of benefits associated with offset projects. In order to be certified under this standard, projects must be shown to be real, measurable, permanent and additional.