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Keeping Track of Carbon Standards for Farming and Forestry

The last few years have seen a proliferation of standards for measuring the impact of different activities on the amount of carbon captured in trees and soil.  Earlier this year, the journal Forests published "Options for REDD+ Voluntary Certification to Ensure Net GHG Benefits, Poverty Alleviation, Sustainable Management of Forests and Biodiversity Conservation".

8 September 2011 | Farming and logging generate more than 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is why industrial emitters have begun using carbon offsets to underwrite more efficient uses of land and reduce their carbon footprint.   That’s led to a proliferation of standards for measuring the impact of different activities on the amount of carbon captured in trees and soil.  
Earlier this year, the journal Forests published a special report entitled Options for REDD+ Voluntary Certification to Ensure Net GHG Benefits, Poverty Alleviation, Sustainable Management of Forests and Biodiversity Conservation.

Written by Eduard Merger of Unique GmbH (Germany), Michael Dutschke of Biocarbon Consult (Germany), and Louis Verchot of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR, Indonesia), the report   compares and evaluates the 10 most popular voluntary standards to understand their practical applicability to “REDD+”, which encompasses offsets that save endangered rainforest (“REDD”, or “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) as well as those that promote efficient land use in areas where forests are already being harvested.  

The 10 standards include: Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB); CCB REDD+ Social and Environmental Standards (CCB REDD+ S&E); Carbon Fix Standard (CFS); Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); Global Conservation Standards (GCS); ISO 14064:2006; Plan Vivo Standard; Programme for Endorsement of Forest Conservation (PEFC); SOCIALCARBON standard; and Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS).

They utilized a framework that consisted of six criteria:

  1. Poverty alleviation,
  2. Sustainable management of forests (SMF),
  3. Biodiversity protection,
  4. Quantification and assessment of net greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits,
  5. Monitoring and reporting, and
  6. Certification procedures.

While previous studies have looked at various aspects of these standards, these six criteria offer a more comprehensive look at these 10 certification schemes.   The authors began from an understanding that REDD+ standards will only be effective if projects and programs demonstrate that they can deliver multiple benefits.   These benefits must include the protection of biodiversity; measurable and verifiable GHG emission reductions; and contribute to the alleviation of local poverty.

This analysis can be utilized by project developers, carbon buyers and project sponsors to determine the most appropriate standard or, as the authors conclude, standards for their particular project.  

To best evaluate these standards, the authors looked at specific project applications of the standards.     These pilots revealed that many projects are combining different standards to achieve different outcomes—and improve their ability to attract investment.

According to the conclusions of the report, there is no single consistent and widely accepted framework for SMF and forest carbon standards that grant real, additional, permanent GHG benefits and that at the same time can ensure the integrity of existing forests, protect biodiversity and promote a range of other environmental and social values.

Indeed, the report concluded that only VCS treated the three REDD program requirements of GHG benefits, monitoring, reporting and certification comprehensively.

The report found that combining at least two certification schemes would be necessary in order to fully ensure social and environmental integrity of REDD+ activities.

Which particular standards will be chosen for any one project depends on a number of variables, including the project site and the desired outcomes.   To assist project developers and sponsors to understand the merits of any one standard for their particular project, the report includes in its analysis the break-down of what a specific standard looks at and evaluates.

As the report describes, these voluntary standards—used worldwide–can provide the flexibility and practical experience needed to design an international REDD+ regime.

Though the future of UNFCCC negotiations may be uncertain, the report thinks this type of project-based analysis is necessary to make forest and REDD+ certification financially achievable while guaranteeing the inclusion of social and environmental safeguards.

The report provides a glimpse of the current status of standards while providing conclusions and recommendations about the future of REDD+ and GHG reduction efforts.

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