Understanding Project Quality
The quality of offset projects refers to issues that may improve or hinder the likelihood of the project truly delivering a reduction in green house gases. Here are some factors to consider in determining the quality of offset projects:
- Incremental impact or additionality. Is there a clear connection between the carbon offset and the viability of the project? In other words would the project happen on its own economic merit or is the carbon offset funding truly required to make the initiative materialize?
- Documentation and registration. Does the project provide a clear paper trail between offset funding and claimed benefits? Is the project registered by a third party to avoid the possibility of double counting credits? Is a neutral third party also involved in the qualification and monitoring process?
- Benefit leakage. Do project benefits remain constant over the lifetime of the project? Does the project lead to the creation of GHGs elsewhere and have these been deducted from the claimed benefit?
- Secondary environmental benefits. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, some projects may offer secondary environmental benefits that may also be advantageous.
- Geographical and technological. The carbon offset purchaser may also prefer to favour projects in certain geographical regions or projects that promote the development of new technologies.
The early days of carbon offsetting were characterised by large variations in project quality. The lack of legislation or clear standards in this area allowed project developers to make unsubstantiated claims presenting the uninformed buyer with the risk of paying for unverified environmental benefits. Fortunately, over the last two years, much progress has been made in developing carbon offset standards. These international standards ensure that projects are of the highest quality and that any claims that they make are substantiated and documented by certified authorities (more on Project Standards).