Nature-Based Benefits in Focus: Quantifying Co-benefits
TCT’s recent scorchers have highlighted some co-benefits that can be achieved with nature-based carbon projects including enhanced water quality, reduced soil erosion, and a host of social and community benefits. Offset buyers generally prefer projects that maximize these positive impacts, often described within the framework of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs ). However, the methods for qualifying these projects as such are far less refined than the analyses involved in calculating their GHG reductions. Directly comparing SDGs unit-for-unit is difficult because these benefits are qualitatively very different (e.g., supporting an outdoor classroom vs. habitat for enhanced habitat for trout). Additionally, SDGs are often self-reported by the project developer and, unlike the GHG emissions themselves, are not universally subject to verification by a third-party auditor. Interest in standardizing metrics for co-benefits and SDGs is growing, but it is challenging given the diverse forms that these benefits take across project types and geographies.
Several offset registries are pioneering approaches to quantify and/or certify co-benefits generated through project activities. The Gold Standard registry certifies several SDG impacts including gender equity through employment opportunities and improved health outcomes from using improved cookstoves . Likewise, Verra launched the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta) in 2019 to facilitate assessing, validating, and reporting progress toward SDGs . One forestry SD VISta project has been verified, and a pipeline of 12 AFOLU projects are currently undergoing validation. Rimba Raya, a 160,000-acre peat swamp in Indonesia that is also a large orangutan sanctuary, strives to advance all 17 SDGs simultaneously .
While these registry-driven measures represent an important step towards standardizing and verifying project co-benefits, certified SDG impacts are currently limited in scope and quantity. A major obstacle is that measuring and verifying each co-benefit introduces more complexity to already complex projects, requiring additional time and resources to quantify, verify, and market. These challenges can be cost prohibitive for many projects. TCT supports the continued development of co-benefit standardization and quantification but recognizes that perfect quantification may be impossible to achieve. At present, transparent communication of project co-benefits strikes the balance between efficiency and nuance.
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