A new standard for carbon offsets fails to guarantee climate benefits and promote sustainable development, and could further increase insecurity and volatility in the carbon offsets market, says WWF.
The Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS), launched by the Climate Group, the International Association for Emission Trading, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, is meant to set a minimum benchmark for the quality of carbon offsets. It is designed to offer the most basic set of rules, focused primarily on lowering transaction costs and carbon prices to consumers.
WWF argues, however, that the VCS cannot guarantee that accredited projects really reduce climate-damaging emissions, and its verification systems are insufficient. By waiving all environmental and social safeguards as well as requirements for stakeholder consultation, the VCS substantially increases the non-carbon risks of VCS projects.
"This new standard simply lacks credibility," says Liam Salter of WWF-Hong Kong.
"Carbon buyers using the VCS will remain exposed to significant risk. The VCS cannot guarantee that credits are real nor projects valuable to host countries."
WWF recommends buyers take extra steps to ensure they are acting responsibly.
Foregoing many essential checks and balances in terms of managing both carbon and non-carbon risk, the VCS appears to rely to a considerable degree on the goodwill and integrity of project developers whose commercial success depends on the sales of credits. WWF believes that this approach carries significant potential risk for buyers and the environment.
"The voluntary carbon offset market is becoming like the Wild West," says Hans Verolme, Director of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme.
"We are concerned that bad offset projects will register under the VCS to make a quick buck. If the VCS Board is serious about its standard they should screen its impact in a very transparent way and show they are ready to make improvements."
Carbon offsetting, if used appropriately, could play a limited part in strategies to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to sustainable development, helping to catalyze the transition globally to a low-carbon economy.
The voluntary market could also help: projects to be undertaken in countries where capacity and expertise in applying Clean Development Mechanism accreditation is lacking; enable small projects to gain access to the carbon markets; and provide a test bed that allows innovation and testing of new technologies and ideas.
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