Buying an offset is rarely better than reducing or avoiding the emissions in the first place, but offsets can be very effective in compensating for unavoidable emissions in order to reach net zero.
Unfortunately, the carbon market has been exploited by some to make money with no benefit to the environment, which means careful selection of projects is required to ensure offsetting delivers positive impact.
At trace we are very picky about the projects that we buy carbon credits (or offsets) from. The “quality” of a carbon offset refers to our level of confidence that the use or purchase of the credit will leave the World at least as well off as if the buyer had reduced their emissions by the same amount.
We buy only high quality credits that are externally verified, additional, deliver value beyond carbon and transparent.
There are several independent governing bodies that assess, monitor and audit the equality of carbon offset projects. We prefer projects verified under Gold Standard or Verra Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).
These governing bodies work with project developers and local stakeholders to ensure projects adhere to environmental and social safeguards. Governance is transparent. And outcomes are long-term, consistent and comparable, providing assurance that everything claimed is real and quantifiable.
That said, even verified projects vary in ‘quality’ which is why we also look for the following criteria.
The credits we buy must be ‘additional’, which means that the project would not have been possible or viable without the sale of carbon offset credits, even if the project reduces emissions below what they would have been in the project’s absence.
For example, some renewable energy projects are not additional, because the sale of carbon credits is not necessary to fund the development and operations of the project. This is because technology is becoming more cost effective and Government funding and/or regulation is making the transition to renewable energy inevitable. The renewable energy projects that trace supports operate in countries where these projects require additional funding from credits to make them possible.
Value beyond carbon - the UN Sustainable Development goals
One carbon credit represents 1 tonne of CO2 removed or avoided from the atmosphere, which directly contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 - Climate Action.
The good news is that projects often have ancillary economic and social benefits meaning they contribute to multiple UN SDGs!
For example, a large-scale wind project based in Turkey provides more country level benefits such as better access to clean technologies, local employment opportunities, more energy independence and increased social stability. A water borehole project in Rwanda benefits people at a community level. It reduces the need to burn wood to purify water, meaning less wood is required helping to decrease deforestation and saving families money, and less time is needed for collecting wood providing more opportunities for schooling and social activities.
Gold Standard has created an impact framework that analyses the benefits of projects across all the UN SDGs. Here are some examples for a biogas and wind project:
We carefully select project managers that provide regular project updates, photos, videos. Not only does this give us confidence in the project but it means we can bring the impact to life and thereby amplify its impact through word of mouth!
Our tree planting partner, Eden Reforestation, records our impact via a public webpage and provides access to hundreds of photos of their amazing project work.