As an independent, third-party auditor, the Rainforest Alliance offers validation and verification services* against six leading carbon standards. One such standard, the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), has recently garnered substantial attention for its potential to become integrated into the United State’s first state level cap-and-trade program in California. Kassy Holmes, a member of the Rainforest Alliance’s climate program, summarizes recent developments surrounding California’s policies and discusses how carbon project auditing services, such as those conducted by the Rainforest Alliance, can confirm a project’s credibility and play an increasingly valuable role within emerging carbon offset programs.
California’s Cap-and-Trade Program and the CAR Standard
In 2006, California became the first state to pass legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change. Under Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), California plans to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and then to levels 80 percent less than those of 1990 by 2050. As part of these efforts, California will implement a cap-and-trade program managed through the California Air Resource Board (ARB). Cap-and-trade schemes set a “cap” on allowable GHG emission levels for covered entities, such as polluting industries. Covered entities can then buy, sell and trade GHG offsets to “offset” a portion of their emissions to remain within the levels set by the cap. Polluters will also have the option to offset eight percent of their emissions through the purchase of carbon credits.
CAR began in 2001 and was in many ways a precursor to ARB’s protocols. It has greatly influenced California’s approach and four of CAR’s protocols have been adopted for use in ARB regulation. CAR is also an approved Offset Project Registry (OPR) under ARB, which means that CAR projects can now generate credits that can be used by industries being regulated under the ARB offset scheme.
California is also pursuing agreements to utilize carbon credits from international Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) projects and has established a REDD Offset Working Group (ROW) to further explore sourcing credits from Chiapas and Acre in Mexico. ROW has released its “Draft Recommendations from the REDD Offset Working Group” which describes options for linking jurisdictional REDD+ projects to California’s cap-and-trade program and is available for public comment until April 30, 2013. Although no final decision has been made regarding REDD+ offsets, allowing such projects to participate in the ARB compliance market could provide a substantial incentive for REDD+. There has, however, been some debate over ability to ensure credibility with these projects. Independent, third-party auditing can help to address these concerns by confirming a project’s credibility through its adherence to the rigorous requirements of a carbon standard.
The Role of Independent Auditing Services
In order for California’s compliance offset plans to work, there must be effective, legitimate carbon projects to buy credits from in the first place. In addition to being authorized to audit forest carbon projects against the CAR standard, the Rainforest Alliance recently became an ARB accredited verification body. This means that we are authorized to conduct verification audits of forest carbon projects against the requirements of ARB protocols. Our auditors, partners and consultants undertake critical steps to ensure that projects conform to the requirements of a standard’s protocols. I recently observed some of this work on a field visit to an improved forest management (IFM) project in Greenville, Maine that is seeking verification against CAR.
During this three-day field visit, the audit team replicated the project developer’s methodology and collected a range of data from a sample of forest inventory plots, including tree species, diameter at breast height (DBH), tree height and the stage of decay for dead or dying trees. All of this information is used to measure the amount of carbon sequestered in a tree. This information is then analyzed and compared to the forest inventory data utilized on the project to determine whether or not the project developer’s inventory methods and data is sound–just one of the many essential activities that auditors carry out to confirm a project’s conformance to a standard and assure its credibility.
Forest carbon projects across the US and REDD projects in Mexico could soon become integrated into California’s emissions reduction efforts. It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out over the next year. Strong, independent auditing will certainly play a crucial role in providing quality assurance and credibility concerning GHG emissions reduction and sequestration claims. As a leader in REDD+ and carbon project verifications and validations, the Rainforest Alliance is well positioned to help steward the success of these efforts.
Visit our website to learn more about Rainforest Alliance’s carbon project validation and verification services.
*Validation is third-party evaluation that confirms that a project uses recognized and reliable methods for reducing greenhouse gases or demonstrating community and biodiversity benefit. Verification is third-party verification of the GHG reductions and community and biodiversity benefits that have occurred.