German Emissions Trading Authority

Quality characteristics

Over the past years, the number of certificates sold for voluntary offsetting has increased. However, in contrast to the compliance market, there are no mandatory quality requirements for voluntary offsetting certificates. In order to ensure that standards comparable to those for the compliance market are introduced in the voluntary sector, several quality standards have been introduced to certify products on the voluntary market, such as the Gold Standard (GS VERs) or the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). These standards ensure that projects meet certain requirements. Apart from choosing a trustworthy standard, buyers of certificates are advised to pay attention to the following points.

pAvoidance has priority over offsetting

As a matter of principle, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions should take priority over offsetting. Offsetting service providers should make this very clear to consumers and advise them on ways of avoiding and reducing emissions. Such advice ranges from household energy consumption to alternatives to air travel.

Offering offsetting for avoidable high emissions such as those caused by high-powered vehicles would defeat the purpose.

Providers of "climate-neutral" goods must first use all available options to avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This could mean optimizing the efficiency of manufacturing processes or switching to renewable energy sources.

Realistic calculation of emissions

Emissions for offsetting must be calculated on a realistic basis. Offsetting service providers should not rely on average data, but base calculations on a certain amount of individual case data. The calculations must be transparent and plausible. Calculations for "climate-neutral" products must comply with internationally recognized standards, such as ISO norms, which are verified by an independent third party.

Air travel offsetting schemes must take the full effect on the climate into account, not only the actual greenhouse gas emissions. This is important because high-altitude emissions in particular add to the greenhouse effect and thus accelerate climate change. This additional effect must be taken into account in the calculations by multiplying the emitted amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) by a factor known as Radiative Forcing Index (RFI). If, for example, 1 tonne of CO2 is emitted at an altitude of 10,000 metres, it will be calculated as 2.7 tonnes of CO2.

There is disagreement among scientists as to how high the RFI should be. This uncertainty, however, does not mean it can be ignored. For high-altitude flights (i.e. not short-distance flights) a minimum value for RFI should come into the equation.

Ambitious and plausible offsetting

Offsetting should always be ambitious and plausible and be covered by either Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) or certificates from climate projects that fulfil a number of ambitious criteria. First of all, evidence must be provided that the emission reductions achieved are additional and would not have been made without the project. The evidence must be verified by an independent third party. Furthermore, the reference scenario on which the calculation of emission reductions is based must be realistic and the emissions avoided must be regularly checked and verified by an independent third party. The certificates must be deleted immediately and proof of deletion be given. The project must contribute to sustainable development.

Compliance with all these criteria is usually guaranteed by trustworthy quality standards.

Transparent offsetting schemes

Offsetting schemes should be as transparent as possible. Service providers should give clients or purchasers essential information on how carbon offsetting and climate projects work. They should also provide information about the basis on which emissions are calculated. Information on the type and quality standard of the certificates generated should be clearly visible

Clients are also given detailed information on individual offsetting projects. These include not only location and type of activity, but also the amount of reductions achieved and the timespan of the project. An explanation regarding the additionality of the project should also be given. The price and merits should be transparent. It must also be revealed what proportion of the sum paid will go directly into the climate project and what proportion will cover administration costs.

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