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New carbon credit integrity assessment opens for applications

The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market launches final assessment framework and carbon principles for crediting projects.

Man gaveling a globe

The IC-VCM is open for applications from carbon crediting programs. Image via Shutterstock/chayanuphol

Last week, the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) released its full guidance for high-quality carbon crediting programs and categories of methodologies. This announcement comes after the documents were released in draft form for public comment in 2022 and the release of the finalized Assessment Framework and the list of Core Carbon Principles in March. This most recent release is the entire bundle including a category-specific assessment procedure. 

Carbon crediting programs (such as Verra, the Gold Standard and the American Carbon Registry) can apply for assessment from the ICVCM via its application portal. ICVCM expects to begin announcing these decisions later in 2023. If the evidence these organizations provide meet the standards of ICVCM, they will be able to use the IC-VCM label on their credits. 

When the public comment versions of the Assessment Framework and principles were  released in 2022, there was quite a bit of pushback from the other carbon verification bodies, most significantly from Verra. In a September post, Verra argued that the IC-VCM was simply duplicating the work that other verification bodies had already done. 

The Assessment Framework relies heavily on the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) — most of the framework sections that outline what projects will need to do to get approval start with the phrase "in addition to CORSIA requirements." CORSIA was one of the first and most widely used offsetting schemes, so using it as a jumping-off point isn’t out of the ordinary; however, the framework has also faced lots of criticism of offering airlines cheap, easy to attain and bad credits to claim "climate neutral." 

"We had also raised a lot of points raised about the duplicating and it's overlapping with CORSIA," said William McDonnell, chief operating officer of the ICVCM. "So we carefully look at the CORSIA requirements and where they overlap with us to streamline the requirements."

According to McDonnell, the ICVCM removed about 75 to 80 percent of the requirements that overlapped and instead outlined the extra things a CORSIA-eligible program needed to demonstrate to be eligible for ICVCM’s stamp of approval. 

The 4 main criteria of the Assessment Framework are credits must fund projects that transition the economy to net zero, are permanent and additional and conservatively quantified to minimize risk of overestimation.

In response to ICVCM’s most recent announcement, the Gold Standard said in an email release that the ICVCM should draw on the knowledge of experts that already exists as it expands into new categories of credits — echoing a similar sentiment from Verra, albeit with a bit of a softer tone. The Gold Standard also made sure to say at the top of its statement that it supports the framework and hopes this will lift the bar across the entire carbon crediting market.

The major requirements in ICVCM’s Assessment Framework revolve around governance, emissions impacts and sustainable development, benefits and safeguards. The four main criteria of the assessment Framework remain the same — credits must fund projects that transition the economy to net zero, are permanent and additional and conservatively quantified to minimize risk of overestimation. However, the feedback from the public commentary published in November created a few notable changes in the final version. McDonnell outlined a few examples. 

"Something like additionality, that was an area where we had feedback telling us that there was a broader range of approaches and tools being used in the market," McDonnell said. "So rather than be locked in to a precise and rigid set of additionality rules, we've listened to that and expanded into several pathways for our additionality requirements and the ability to apply an equivalence test."

Another example of the feedback incorporated by ICVCM was that its framework should focus on high-level requirements for methodology developments instead of every single methodology for each project type. The comments also suggested the organization should focus on creating standards and processes at the program level for entire categories of projects such as bio-oil or soil sequestration instead of assessing at the individual project tier. It also noted that requiring all carbon crediting programs to commit to a full compliance immediately would be burdensome and would discourage applications. Instead it worked to create a transition pathway for programs. The summary outlined additional feedback on everything from strategic initiatives to sustainable development.  

As for the Core Carbon Principles, most commenters agreed with the 10 principles but observed that "do no harm" was conspicuously absent. And while it was not added to the primary list of principles, McDonnell explained that it is incorporated into the assessment framework for methodology categories. 

After the new guidance was announced, Verra stated that it’s reviewing ICVCM’s assessment framework and "remains supportive." Verra is considering the best time for submitting itself for ICVCM assessment, according to its statement last week. The Gold Standard hasn’t said when or if it will be submitting its projects to the ICVCM because what was released was just the program and methodology criteria, but its recent statement does indicate that it will continue to align with and go further than the ICVCM’s criteria.

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