‘If we build high integrity, scale will follow’: New standard-setting body promises new era of transparency for the voluntary carbon market

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

Carbon offset projects allow companies to invest in environmental projects such as land restoration or the planting of trees in other parts of the world to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Image: Getty/fotoVoyager
Carbon offset projects allow companies to invest in environmental projects such as land restoration or the planting of trees in other parts of the world to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Image: Getty/fotoVoyager

Related tags: Carbon

Food and beverage companies that buy carbon offsets to compensate for emissions they cannot remove will be soon be able to purchase ones endorsed by a new accreditation scheme.

The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (the Integrity Council), an independent governance body for the voluntary carbon market, will launch a definitive set of global threshold standards in the third quarter of 2022, after it launches a public consultation in May. The group says the new standards will set a new global benchmark for carbon credit quality.

The move comes amid concerns about transparency and standards in the unregulated but booming carbon offset market​.  

It is common for food brands to turn to offsetting to lower their carbon footprint. Carbon offset projects include planting trees or conserving forests or mangroves.

But because of fears about being accused of greenwashing, many stress they are focussed on making operational reductions over offsetting. Nestle, for example, shuns using offsets in its quest for net zero emissions but has said it will make exceptions for its brands that want to “move faster” towards carbon neutrality.

Unilever says compensation credits can be a source of much-needed funding for activities that avoid or reduce GHG emissions compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The sale of avoided emissions credits can “provide an income stream to farmers to incentivise the urgent protection of natural capital such as tropical forests in the absence of regulatory frameworks that require it,”​ it says.

Danone too has said that offsets make up one part of its plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. It created the Livelihoods Carbon Fund which invests in projects such as restoring mangrove forests in Senegal.

New standards to promote ‘high-quality carbon credits’

The Integrity Council says its Core Carbon Principles (CCPs) and Assessment Framework will set new threshold standards for high-quality carbon credits, provide guidance on how to apply the CCPs, and define which carbon-crediting programs and methodology types are CCP-eligible.

The standards are being developed by the Integrity Council's expert panel, made up of 12 of the world's leading scientists on the carbon markets. This panel is supported by 11 ‘subject matter’ experts in topics ranging from carbon sequestration science to the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

Annette Nazareth, Co-Chair of the Integrity Council, said: "The voluntary carbon market has a critical role to play in accelerating a just transition to 1.5 degrees centigrade, but it can only succeed if it is rooted in high integrity."

Hugh Sealy, Co-Chair of the Integrity Council, added: "High quality carbon credits are an important complementary tool to reduce and remove greenhouse gas emissions above and beyond what would otherwise be possible, and to channel finance towards climate-resilient development. If we build integrity, scale will follow, but to do that, we must listen and learn from many different sources of knowledge and experience in the market and society at large, which is why we're launching a full public consultation."

Enforcement?  

The body, however, has no decision-making functions and will be without enforcement authority. “We have the ability to name and shame and withdraw the accreditation,”​ said Sealy, adding that projects will have to be ‘real and measurable, additional and permanent’.

“Every project that has our principles should have a net benefit for the community in which that project is hosted and that’s what we’re driving towards,” ​he stressed.

“Everyone’s aware of the history of scams in this market,”​ added Nazareth. “We’re going to have to be very vigilant against things like people claiming that their projects are CCP accredited when they’re not and very transparent to make it clear if people are claiming things that aren’t true.”

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