New research published by Ecosystem Marketplace finds evidence of a market-wide shift in the voluntary carbon markets (VCM), with demand concentrating around high-integrity, high-quality carbon credits that have holistic co-benefits beyond the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
Transaction data analyzed in the report show a massive 82% leap in average carbon credit prices between 2021 and 2022, paired with a drop in overall transaction volumes. These dynamics suggest a market consolidating around a smaller but committed set of buyers willing to pay premium prices for higher quality credits. Demand is particularly high for nature-based credits that are certified for co-benefits and Sustainable Development Goals, according to the report’s authors.
Key findings from the report:
- Average VCM credit prices are higher than they have been in 15 years, while overall trade volumes are down from a 2021 peak. While the volume of VCM credits traded dropped by 51%, the average price per credit skyrocketed, rising by 82% from $4.04 per ton in 2021 to $7.37 in 2022. To date in 2023, the average credit price is down slightly to $6.97 per ton.
- This price hike allowed the overall value of the VCM to hold relatively steady in 2022, at just under $2 billion.
- Credits connected to nature-based solutions were a primary driver of high market value. Nature-based projects, including forestry and land-use and agriculture projects, made up almost half of the market share at 46%. From 2021 to 2022, the average price of these kinds of credits increased by 75% and 14%, respectively. Credits from agriculture projects also increased in volume by 283%.
- Credits that certified additional robust environmental and social co-benefits “beyond carbon” had a significant price premium. Credits from projects with at least one co-benefit certification had a 78% price premium compared to projects without any co-benefit certification. Experts interviewed by Ecosystem Marketplace emphasized that these certifications are increasingly becoming required by buyers, and many are preferentially seeking them out. Projects working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals also demonstrated a substantial price premium at 86% higher than projects not associated with SDGs – yet another indicator of buyer emphasis on carbon credits that do more for people and the environment.
- Newer credits are attracting higher prices, indicating that buyers are seeking newer vintages with more robust recent methodologies, or are paying more for credits that align with their current emissions years as much as possible. The premium for carbon credits with a more recent vintage, representing more recent emissions reductions activities, was 57% above older credits, compared with a 38% recency premium in 2021, using a historical five-year rolling cutoff date from the year of transaction.
- CORSIA-eligible project credits gained market value, driven by a 126% increase in price. This notable growth of CORSIA in the VCM in 2022 indicates a growing relationship between compliance markets and the VCM, a key consideration for market participants because, 1) quality criteria set by CORSIA have been incorporated by the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI) until the Integrity Council’s core carbon principles are implemented, 2) CORSIA enters its first compliance phase in 2024, and 3) countries are beginning to implement Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.
According to Stephen Donofrio, Managing Director of Ecosystem Marketplace, “This is a critical moment for the voluntary carbon markets. While the data do not show the same type of growth by volume present in previous reports, our market analysis shows a critical, increased shift in market behavior towards integrity and quality, shown by an impressive uptick in average credit price. Buyers in the voluntary carbon markets are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and they want to know the true impact of their dollars.”
The new report from Ecosystem Marketplace analyzes self-reported carbon credit transaction data from over 160 respondents to their annual market survey, representing credits from 1,530 projects and over 130 project types traded worldwide. Respondents typically include project developers, investors, and intermediaries. Data on project registrations and credit issuances and retirements were sourced from project registries.
The full report, Paying for Quality: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2023, is available for download here.
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