Concerns are mounting that rival international standards for voluntary carbon reduction projects could confuse customers after US-based renewable energy certification and verification body Green-e last month became the latest to publish a new Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction certification standard.
The standard - which was developed by an advisory group consisting of environmental organisations, government agencies and businesses and has been released for stakeholder comment - sets out a range of criteria GHG reduction projects must meet to gain a Green-e certificate proving they are "real, measurable, verifiable and beyond business-as-usual".
These include disclosing detailed information on the project and submitting to periodic independent reviews of the project as well as disclosing project information for public review. The standard also requires that the bodies undertaking the project review are entirely independent from both those selling the GHG credits and certifying the amount of GHG reduced.
The draft standard is now open to comment from interested stakeholders until the end of January.
Jan Hamrin, president of the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) which set up Green-e, said in a statement that the aim was to develop a transparent standard that allows individuals and businesses to buy carbon offsets with confidence that greenhouse gases are being reduced.
She also urged carbon offset firms and other interested parties to comment on the current standard. "Just as we did with the Green-e standard for renewable energy products, this new standard will incorporate stakeholder comments from any interested party," she added. "This ensures a well designed, well-rounded standard that considers suggestions from every pertinent angle. Based on our past successes, we believe this is the best way to create standards and invite anyone interested to participate in the comment period."
Demand for an independent standard has increased over the past year amidst fears that unscrupulous offset providers have been investing in projects with limited environmental benefits and even selling the same carbon credits several times over. Reports of such sharp practices have threatened to diminish confidence in the burgeoning market, which has expanded rapidly as high profile firms such as Sky and HSBC have sought to bolster their green credentials by offseting their carbon emissions.
Sue Welland, founder and creative director of The CarbonNeutral Company, one of the largest offset providers in the UK, said that the latest move towards an international standard was welcome and that the company would contribute to eGreen's feedback process. However, she argued that there was cause for concern over the number of different standards being developed.
"We have the Carbon Neutral Protocol, which is independent from the company, and we're working with both the Climate Group and Defra on their standards," she said. "There is a need for standards, but there is a risk we're going to end up with too many."
She added that on initial inspection there was little difference between eGreen's proposal and the current Carbon Neutral Protocol. "There is agreement across the industry that there needs to be standards for measuring how much carbon is emitted from a given activity, how the effectiveness of the offset project is measured, and how it is audited to ensure no double selling," she explained. "We've had an independently assessed standard for five years addressing these areas and there is a risk that with so many rival standards offset providers could spend all their time chasing certifications rather than working on their projects – it could confuse the customer."
Michael Buick of carbon offset firm ClimateCare agreed the current spate of standards could lead to confusion, but predicted that the number of rival certification scheme should soon begin to fall. "It is inevitable that different groups will try to establish different standards, but I'm sure we'll see a period of shake down when only the better ones will be adopted," he said. "We need to get to a stage where there are just a few standards that customers understand and have confidence in."
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