Voluntary Carbon Market Scrutiny: Raising Ambition Or Killing It?
The increasing floods, tropical storms, atmospheric rivers, hurricanes and the temperature of the oceans in Miami should already have put you on high alert. Earth is warming at an alarming rate, and what we need now is to mobilize action and funding for climate solutions that can help prevent a global climate crisis. There is a crisis in funding for communities and climate.
The research is clear: Host countries, companies, organizations and individuals that are leading on climate are stepping up their decarbonization efforts as well as mitigating carbon emissions in a variety of forms, with much of their effort coming through the purchase of carbon credits in the voluntary carbon market. The problem I see is that there's currently a small cohort of individuals and academic pundits in the climate space who are deciding what’s appropriate climate action and what’s not. This has caused massive uncertainty in the market and is holding back investment and climate action at a time when we need it most.
Reducing emissions of your NPO or your personal life takes a lot of forms: Reduce reliance on fossil fuels in whatever ways we can. Reduce road trips and flights, and take rail or public transport if possible. Reduce our reliance on plastics, and recycle and reuse where we can. Cut back on food waste. Switch to renewable energy.
We also need to reduce illegal logging and deforestation, since a cut tree will eventually result in emissions. We need to provide electricity to off-grid communities to prevent emissions from alternative fuels such as kerosene. We must reduce methane emissions right now, as capturing or destroying this giga-pollutant is one of the fastest ways we have to make an immediate impact on global warming. Methane is 80 times worse for the environment in a 20-year time frame than CO2. Methane activities include reducing methane emissions from livestock and human sanitation or creating proper landfills to take the place of roadside dumps so that methane emissions can be measured, captured and used to create electricity or flared into a less offensive gas. We need to reduce emissions from old refrigerants or fire-fighting gases. Not all of these will apply to your NPO, but you can still be a steward for climate action by calling upon others who are contributing to these irresponsible emissions.
We also need to remove CO2 already in the atmosphere. This means investments to plant new forests or replace ones that have been destroyed, or to support the development of new technologies for the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.
I believe that a carbon market solution can accomplish all these things, and by investing in it, your NPO can make a tangible impact. The methodology, supply, interest, funding and demand are all in place and efficient. Still, nothing is moving because many academics and carbon experts have taken the view that these third-party verified and validated emission reductions must be overestimated.
Unfortunately, carbon accounting has not—and, in my opinion, cannot—ever be an exact science. There is no doubt that not everyone agrees on the best way to count emission reductions. Some methods endorsed by critics are misguided or based on faulty research or conclusions, and most can easily be rebutted by the project if given equal exposure. Yes, I recognize that some methods put forth by the carbon market need newer science. However, it is important to note that the ability to measure and count emissions has improved over time as new science and methodologies become available.
In fact, two initiatives I'm familiar with—the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (for which I serve as a board member) and the Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative—are now providing end-to-end accountability and oversight on emission reduction accounting, quality, integrity and the application of emission reductions to corporate goals.
In addition, carbon crediting programs or carbon standards are enlisting help from experts to further review their (already) peer-reviewed and approved methodologies to see where immediate improvements can be made. My perspective is that carbon crediting standards must improve their methodologies, science must help guide better measurement of reductions and we must move quickly to adopt improvements at the project level.
I think critics of the carbon market hope that by calling out problems with project accounting for specific projects, the world will walk away from a market-based solution to climate. What they fail to realize is that without this source of financing, solving the crisis with government or philanthropy alone will be impossible.
It is only with a functioning market that we can raise ambition from the private sector. The knowledge that funding can be delivered effectively, efficiently and at scale to mitigate the worst effects of climate change should unlock a torrent of ambition. We should also take pride in what is being accomplished with a viable market: Millions of hectares of forest have been protected from deforestation and degradation, millions of dollars have landed in marginalized communities for adaptation and resilience, thousands of jobs have been created, hundreds of roadside dumps have been closed and countless people are now gathering less fuel for cooking. These are just a few of the examples of the impact a healthy voluntary carbon market can have that I’ve seen firsthand.