- The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM), an independent governance body, released a set of core carbon principles (CCPs) intended to provide a “threshold standard” for quality in the global carbon market.
- To earn the CCP label, projects must address governance issues such as verification and transparency, ensure that the emissions reductions and removals of carbon actually happen at claimed levels above what would have been accomplished under the business-as-usual scenario, and adhere to strict guidelines intended to ensure that projects don’t harm communities or the environment, according to the ICVCM’s statement.
- The global voluntary carbon market sits at a pivotal crossroads, as several investigations have raised concerns about how much the projects supported by the purchase of carbon credits actually protect or restore forests as a climate change-mitigation strategy.
An independent governance body has released a set of rules aimed at boosting the “integrity” of the global carbon market for the exchange of credits meant to address the climate impacts of companies and individuals.
“It’s clear we are not acting fast enough to address the climate crisis,” Annette Nazareth, chair of the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM), said in a statement. “We need every tool available working at full speed to secure a livable future and a high-integrity voluntary carbon market is one of those tools.”
The group says the core carbon principles (CCPs) it launched March 29 set a “threshold standard” for quality in carbon markets that will help keep the global temperature rise at less than 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. To earn the CCP label, projects must address governance issues such as verification and transparency. They also must ensure that the emissions reductions and removals of carbon actually happen at claimed levels above what would have been accomplished under the business-as-usual scenario and adhere to strict guidelines intended to ensure that projects don’t harm communities or the environment, according to the ICVCM’s statement.
The group notes that a public consultation process that involved Indigenous and community groups produced more than 5,000 comments on the principles in 2022, which helped to shape the final draft of the 10 principles.
“Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities have a vital role to play in achieving net zero because they manage and protect around 40% of the planet’s ecologically intact landscapes,” Francisco Souza, managing director of the FSC Indigenous Foundation, said according to the ICVCM statement. “The CCPs respect their importance and will ensure that high-integrity carbon credits recognize and safeguard their rights, livelihoods and values.”
The FSC Indigenous Foundation is an Indigenous-led organization with funding from the Forest Stewardship Council and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The release of the principles comes at a pivotal time for the carbon market. The ostensible goal of the exchanges is for purchases of credits through these markets to support efforts at keeping or drawing climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere, such as rainforest conservation or restoration in the tropics, where the highest densities of terrestrial carbon lie. But key buyers, such as corporations looking to compensate for emissions from their operations, are perplexed by a decentralized market. They say it’s difficult to identify which projects result in the sequestration of additional carbon, according to a survey published in January. Then, in January 2023, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, Germany’s Die Zeit and the journalism nonprofit SourceMaterial published analyses calling into question whether supposedly high-quality forest carbon projects are making a difference to the global climate.
Amid another investigation by the Dutch news organization Follow the Money, raising concerns about a Zimbabwean forest conservation project, dozens of NGOs called on European leaders to reject carbon offsets completely.
“If averting uncontrollable climate chaos is the objective, offsets have no place in the policy toolbox,” they wrote in an open letter published March 22. “We therefore demand that the European Commission does not legitimise a market whose holes are so deep they can never be filled.”
The revelations have shaken confidence in the carbon market, though some scientists argue that they provide a critical opportunity to marshal the resources needed to slow climate change by protecting and restoring forests.
“We can’t have credits that aren’t real,” Edward Mitchard, chief scientist and co-founder of the U.K.-based company Space Intelligence, told Mongabay in early March. But, he added, “I think we have to get tons of private money into forest conservation because deforestation is carrying on or accelerating, and clearly, whatever national programs are doing are not stopping it.”
Mitchard is also a professor in the school of geosciences at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K.
Frances Seymour, a distinguished senior fellow with the World Resources Institute, told the Economist news weekly that 2023 is “a make-or-break year” for the carbon market.
The CCPs are an improvement, Gilles Dufrasne, policy lead for global carbon markets at the nonprofit watchdog Carbon Market Watch, said in a statement.
“While the new rules help enhance the quality of carbon credits, they do not close all loopholes of the voluntary carbon market,” Dufrasne said. “More rules are needed and the credibility of the Integrity Council still hangs in the balance as several important criteria still need to be released.”
Several issues still need to be addressed, including shoring up guidelines around the “intermediaries” that profit from the exchange of carbon credits, Carbon Market Watch said. A February report from the organization found that most of these entities don’t share how much they make in fees and commissions on credit sales. The new principles do, however, require more transparency around how credits are used and for what purposes, Carbon Market Watch said.
Dufrasne and his colleagues say they want to see a greater focus on decarbonizing operations and supply chains, rather than “offsetting” emissions, for example, so that a company can claim carbon neutrality.
The concern is that offsetting allows emitters to continue operations that pollute the atmosphere. That sentiment has led supporters of the carbon market to reinforce the importance of reducing carbon emissions overall.
“The foundation for any company taking leadership on climate is to take responsibility for their own operations,” Luke Pritchard, nature-based solutions manager with the We Mean Business Coalition, said at a press briefing in January. The coalition is a group of climate-focused NGOs that led the research for the January survey of corporations about carbon markets. “But I think we also recognize that that alone isn’t going to be enough and that carbon markets are a tool that, if they’re used appropriately and if we have the right guardrails in place, are going to play … a critical role in that transition towards net zero.”
Banner image: Clouds reflected in a lake in the Amazon Rainforest. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
John Cannon is a staff features writer with Mongabay. Find him on Twitter: @johnccannon
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