Within the greenhouse gas market, not only are there a lot of different standards, they’re also referred to as protocols, methodologies, and guidelines. There are far too many standards to cover in this post, so please excuse us if we don’t mention your favorite here – this post explains many of the different types of standards, whereas future posts will discuss specific standards in more detail.
For consumers and companies that want to purchase carbon offset credits the “quality” of those offsets is of utmost importance. This seemingly routine detail is not actually that routine, and it can affect the validity of business claims to be “carbon neutral” and can compromise the good will of voluntary carbon offset market participants. In the carbon market there are standards and protocols, broadly “what you are required to do” and “how you do it” but those lines frequently get blurred. This week’s ClimatePulse with ClimateCHECK will help you sift through the carbon standards world.
The de facto “how to do” guidance are the WRI/WBCSD protocols while the internationally adopted auditable “what to do” requirements are the ISO standards. Both are broken down into two separate quantification modules, one for corporate accounting and one for project-level accounting of greenhouse gas emissions. When organizations report their inventory of greenhouse gas emissions under the requirements of a program such as the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) or the Climate Registry (TCR) they are typically using the GHG Protocol corporate module, developed by a multistakeholder group of experts and managed by the WRI and the WBCSD. The ISO 14064-1 standard was developed according to ISO’s “standard for developing a standard” – yes there is standardized process for developing a standard. ISO 14064-1 was then developed to be consistent with the GHG Protocol corporate module.
In addition to the ISO and WRI/WBCSD standards there are several program-specific versions that vary in some of their requirements to meet the needs of the intended users. These programs include the California Climate Action Registry (CCAR), TCR, US EPA Climate Leaders, CCX, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and EU ETS.
When emissions reductions are to be quantified a project-level approach is taken. ISO 14064-2 defines the sources, sinks, and reservoirs (SSRs) of greenhouse gases that define the project “baseline” rather than using an obscure arbitrarily set “boundary” as is used in the GHG Protocol project accounting module. The ISO standard allows for a building block approach to emissions and emission reduction quantification making it highly versatile and program/policy neutral rather than the “cook book” approach of other methodologies such as the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – known as “approved methodologies”. The building block approach allows the ISO standard to even be used as a lifecycle emissions inventory framework for determining the lifecycle emissions of a specific product or service, as well as new clean technologies.
Another point of differentiation for the ISO standards is the existence of a verification standard (ISO 14064-3) and an accreditation standard (ISO 14065) of requirements that verifiers must meet. While there are other verification standards (ISAE 3000, IETA/World Bank PCF VVM), the ISO verification standard interfaces seamlessly with the requirements of the corporate and project greenhouse gas reporting standards and ensures full compliance with the principles of the standards.
Are all of these standards needed? It is clear that the greenhouse gas market is complex and there is no “silver bullet” standard to ensure the quality of carbon offset credits being transacted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.