Interest in carbon offsets has undoubtedly grown over the past few years. Much of the new demand is for nature-based climate solutions (Ecosystem Marketplace 2019) like forestry or grasslands projects. In response to this increased demand, there have been calls for carbon offset protocols to be more accessible so that they attract additional offset projects to meet that demand. Non-profit offset registries, who have traditionally governed the development of offset protocols, have responded to these calls in various ways including streamlining methods for aggregating smaller offset projects, providing forecasted crediting, and standardizing tools based on transparent, publicly-reviewed and time-tested methodologies. A number of new for-profit entities have also launched, or are in the process of launching, their own marketplaces and methodologies, often employing novel technologies and/or approaches to carbon accounting.
While technological innovation is certainly important to increase access to carbon markets and hasten the pace of carbon sequestration, so is transparency. The US based offset registries have done an excellent job developing offset protocols based on rigorous, peer-reviewed science, evidenced by their inclusion in CORSIA, California’s cap-and-trade program, and the millions of offset credits purchased voluntarily by organizations ranging from universities to Fortune 100 companies. This rigor is critical because carbon offsets are intangible and so must rely on sound science and transparency to give confidence to offset buyers and engender public trust in the system. Long-standing registries such as American Carbon Registry and Climate Action Reserve have modeled this through science-based approaches to quantification and technology that are submitted to scrutiny by experts and open for public review.
As we strive to increase the pace of sequestration through technology and innovation, transparency and trust in the scientific foundation of offset markets needs to be the priority. Meeting the increasing demand for carbon offsets should involve the development of new protocols. It is critical, however, that new protocols meet the highest scientific standards by soliciting expert review and public comment during their development.