Voluntary Carbon Standard

Overview

The Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) is a full-fledged carbon offset standard. It focuses on GHG reduction attributes only and does not require projects to have additional environmental or social benefits. The VCS 2007 is broadly supported by the carbon offset industry (project developers, large offset buyers, verifiers, projects consultants). VCS approved carbon offsets are registered and traded as Voluntary Carbon Units (VCUs) and represent emissions reductions of 1 metric tonne of CO2.

History of Standard
The Voluntary Carbon Standard  version 1 was published jointly in March 2006 by The Climate Group (TCG), the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the World Economic Forum Global Greenhouse Register (WEF). The Voluntary Carbon Standard 2007 was launched in November 2007 following a 19-member Steering Committee review of comments received on earlier draft versions. The Steering Committee was made up of members from NGOs, DOEs, industry associations, project developers and large offset buyers. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development joined in 2007 as a founding partner of the VCS 2007. The VCS will be updated yearly for the first two years and every two years after that.


Administrative Bodies

VCS Association manages the Voluntary Carbon Standard. The VCS Association is an independent, non-profit association registered under Swiss law that represents the VCS Secretariat and the VCS Board.

VCS Secretariat is responsible for responding to stakeholder queries, managing relationships with registry operators and accreditation bodies, and managing the VCS website and projects database.

VCS Board is responsible for approving any substantial changes to the Voluntary Carbon Standard 2007. It also evaluates and approves other GHG Standards (whether in full or elements of them) project methodologies and additionality performance standards. It also has the authority to suspend an approved programme temporarily or indefinitely if changes are made to it that affect its compatibility with the VCS Programme. Further, it can sanction validators and verifiers, project proponents and registry operators for improper procedure. Finally, it decides on appeals made by project developers against a validator or verifier.

Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) support the Board by providing detailed technical recommendations on issues related to the programme and its requirements (e.g. the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use TAG for bio-sequestration projects).

Accredited Third-Party Auditors have the authority to validate and verify GHG emission reduction projects, validate new baseline and monitoring methodologies, validate additionality performance standards, and perform gap analyses of other GHG programs. They can only do so for project scopes and geographies for which they are accredited. To receive accreditation, they must either be accredited under an approved GHG Programme or under the ISO 14065:2007 with an accreditation scope specifically for the VCS Programme. Unlike under CDM, accredited third-party auditors can validate and verify the same project.

Financing of the S Standard Organisation
Start-up funding for the VCS Standard Organisation comes from TCG, IETA and WBCSD with additional fundraising currently underway. Donations from commercial organisations are capped at €20,000 per annum. In the medium term costs will be covered by a per-tonne levy charged at the point of VCU issuance.

Recognition of Other Standards
At present, the VCS Programme recognizes the CDM and JI, and is in the processing of evaluating the California Climate Action Registry. VCS will evaluate and adopt other offset standards either fully or elements of them. The approval process will be based on the principle of full compatibility with the VCS Programme. If another offset standard is fully adopted by the VCS, all their auditors and methodologies are automatically accepted by the VCS. All credits certified by that standard will then be fungible with VCS credits, the Voluntary Carbon Unit (VCU).

Number of Projects
VCS 2007 was launched in November of 2007. It is not possible to determine how many projects have been certified under VCS 2007 to date because the VCS registries and central project database are still under development. Several projects were validated and verified against VCS version 1. The VCS Association expects that between 50–150 projects creating between 10–20 million tonnes of CO2e will have been approved under the VCS Programme by the end of 2008.

Comments on the VCS
The VCS is a base-level-quality standard that aims to keep costs for validation and verification low while still ensuring basic quality requirements. The VCS has outsourced a number of tasks that under CDM are done by the Executive Board and the Methodology Panel (e.g. project and methodology approval). The advantage of this is that the organisation can be kept very lean. Also, outsourcing tasks to professionals in the respective fields can potentially increase the quality of work (e.g. having a proposed methodology evaluated by an external advisory group of experts in that particular technology). The downside of this approach is that more decision making power is given to outside entities.

Future of VCS
Given that the Voluntary Carbon Standard 2007 is broadly supported by the carbon offset industry, it will likely become one of the more important standards in the voluntary offset market and might very well establish itself as the main standard for voluntary offsets. The VCS version 1 was criticized by many as too weak and vague. The VCS 2007 was developed after a 2-year stakeholder consultation and has taken into account many of these criticisms and is clearly an improvement over version 1.

Since VCS 2007 was just released, it is too early to judge if the standard will be able to realize its goal of ensuring “that carbon offsets that businesses and consumers buy can be trusted and have real environmental benefits.” We are hoping that the VCS will use its market position to improve the quality of offsets and will address some of the potential weaknesses in the standard.

Source: WWF Germany, March 2008, Making Sense of the Voluntary Carbon Market: A Comparison of Carbon Offset Standards, Anja Kollmuss (SEI-US), Helge Zink (Tricorona), Clifford Polycarp (SEI-US). Full report is available as a PDF here.