Tabitha Whiting
Tabitha WhitingContent & Growth Marketing
What makes a high-quality carbon offset?
What makes a high-quality carbon offset?
Not all carbon offset projects have the positive impact that they claim to, known as ‘low-quality’ offsets. So what makes a high-quality carbon offset, and how can you identify them?
May 23, 2022

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There are two rules we live by when it comes to carbon offsetting for businesses:

  1. Always choose high-quality carbon offset projects
  2. Prioritise carbon removal projects – particularly innovative and permanent storage solutions.

In this blog we’ll be focusing on low-quality vs high-quality carbon offset projects. Why is it important to opt for high-quality projects? What makes a project high-quality? How can you tell the difference between high and low quality projects? 

If you’re curious about why we recommend that companies prioritise contributing to carbon removal projects, take a look at our blog on the topic: Contribution over compensation: an impact-led approach to buying carbon offset credits.

The voluntary carbon market (VCR) is relatively new and is unregulated, leading to an abundance of offset projects that are untrustworthy or illegitimate trying to take a piece of the pie. These are known as low-quality carbon offset projects

These low-quality projects are not verified and have no proof of permanent, additional, and measurable carbon removal or emissions avoidance. They’re typically cheap to purchase, which can make them look attractive to businesses. But, they have little or no positive climate impact – meaning that if you choose to purchase carbon credits from these projects your brand is at risk of being perceived as greenwashing

On the other hand, high-quality carbon offset projects provide permanent and additional carbon reduction or removal which is measured, quantified, and regularly reported on to ensure it has been correctly estimated – so you can be sure that they’re actually having the impact they claim to for the planet.

They’re also typically verified/certified or are in the process of being, meaning that the methodology of the project has been checked and verified, and that the carbon credits generated are properly tracked and retired in a carbon registry run by the verification organisation e.g. Gold Standard, Verra, Puro.Earth.

The one notable exception to this certification rule is some of the more innovative carbon removal projects, such as mineralisation or direct air capture, where there is no existing standard because of the newness of the method. However, the method behind the project will have been assessed and approved in principle – such as NCX’s forestry project which uses new measurement techniques, and has ‘concept note acceptance’ from Verra whilst working towards full certification.

In summary, high-quality projects are: 

  • Permanent: the carbon removal or emissions avoidance is long-term and will not be reversed e.g. in a reforestation if the forest is cut down in later years.
  • Additional: emissions reductions or carbon removal is generated in addition to what would have happened without the project existing.
  • Correctly estimated: projects can only claim reductions or removal of emissions where the impact has been accurately measured and quantified – and with a high-quality project you’d expect to see transparency about this process.
  • Single counted: a carbon registry provides assurance the carbon offset credit has not already been claimed by any other entity.
  • Typically more expensive: running a successful and impactful carbon offsetting project is hard and usually requires a lot of time and labour, so be wary of cheap offsets - they rarely have the impact they claim to have. 

Quality is the main factor in how we assess projects for our own project library at Lune, always ensuring projects have permanent, additional and measurable emission reduction or carbon removal which are already certified or where the methodology is robust and trustworthy. 

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