The Gold Standard for carbon offsets has come out on top after research which, for the first time, rates voluntary offset standards according to clear quality criteria.

The report, which rates the seven main standards, was commissioned by conservation organization WWF. Making Sense of the Voluntary Carbon Market – a Comparison of Carbon Offset Standards, was written by the Stockholm Environment Institute, an independent research organization, and Tricorona, a major investor in and originator of carbon offsets.

The high-profile voluntary market for carbon offsets is small but fast growing. WWF believes voluntary standards could play a role in the fight against dangerous climate change by getting consumers and companies used to the idea of paying to offset the environmental damage caused by their carbon emissions. High-quality offset schemes make investments in clean energy or efficient production while contributing to the sustainable development of the countries in which they are hosted.

Much of the recent growth in the voluntary market comes from companies and individuals who wish to offset their carbon emissions (created by travel or production processes, for instance) by purchasing credits in projects that result in emissions reductions elsewhere.

While WWF welcomes the increased public awareness of the need to cut carbon pollution, it urges consumers and business leaders to use offsetting only as the final part of a three-pronged approach known as “avoid, reduce, then offset”. Only when all options to avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been exhausted (these include e.g. buying green electricity, using public transport, or using video-conferencing instead of flying to meetings) should they proceed to offsetting by using Gold Standard credits, now rated as the highest quality standard.

“WWF believes that people should be able to trust that the carbon offsets they are purchasing come from high-quality projects that are actually helping to minimize climate change,” said Hans Verolme, director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme. “If carbon offsets are to be credible, and if businesses want to avoid being accused of ‘greenwashing,’ the projects they finance must have clear social and environmental benefits. Otherwise, offsetting will be seen as the rich transferring responsibility for tackling climate change to the developing world ,” he said.

The voluntary standards rated in the report are: Gold Standard; Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS); VER+; Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX); Voluntary Offset Standard (VOS); Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCBS); Plan Vivo.

The Gold Standard is an independent, internationally recognized benchmark for carbon offset projects. It was created by environmental and development NGOs, including WWF, and is currently supported by 51 NGOs from around the world.


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