A number of standards for offsets exist today, both third-party and self-determined.
However, a number of factors combine to make it difficult for consumers to evaluate the quality of offsets available on the voluntary market:
In short, a provider’s acceptance and use of an offset quality standard, regardless of whether it is a third-party or self-determined standard, cannot by itself be considered proof that their offsets are of the highest quality. Nevertheless, the use of a rigorous quality standard may be demonstrative of a commitment to offset quality.
Some of the standards that are in use today include:
Kyoto CDM: The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). CDM credits must meet strict requirements and be verified by authorized third parties.
The Gold Standard sets higher quality standards than the CDM and is endorsed by over 40 NGOs worldwide. Gold Standard projects may include renewable energy or energy efficiency technologies, but sequestration projects are excluded.
The Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS): The VCS is being developed by the Climate Group (TCG) and the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Carbon offsets that are certified and verified through the VCS are called Voluntary Carbon Units (VCUs) and are tradable.
ISO 14064 and 14065 were created by the International Organization for Standardization, and detail specifications and guidance related to validation, verification and accreditation of GHG projects and organizations.
Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX): The CCX has developed standardized rules for issuing carbon credits for certain types of offset projects. The CCX standards are proprietary.
Green-e sets standards for US renewable energy projects and verifies those projects. Green-e certified Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) cannot be used to also meet regulatory portfolio standards.
The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards (CCBS): The CCBS are a gold standard equivalent for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry Projects, andwere developed by a group called the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance.
Self-standards: A number of offset providers have developed their own standards for offset quality. The features and rigor of these standards vary.