Standards for Selling Carbon Offsets

MCDI is preparing its REDD project to meet the highest of certification standards for both a potential regulated carbon market (adopted under the UNFCCC process) and for the existing voluntary carbon market.  The global community has spent years trying to iron out the details of a REDD+ mechanism under the UNFCCC, but negotiations have yet to result in a fully operational mechanism in place (and some believe an agreement won’t be reached until 2020).  Therefore, the only REDD credits being sold and traded today are being done through the voluntary carbon market, which has a number of different voluntary offset standards to choose from.

MCDI is pursuing validation from the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB Standard), two leading standards which are commonly used in concert to verify combined carbon offsets and co-benefits (social and environmental). We will ensure that the project is successfully audited to comply with these leading standards.

About the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

The Verified Carbon Standard is the most widely used standard on the voluntary market today and is closely aligned with the draft UNFCCC requirements and IPCC guidelines.  VCS certifies the greenhouse gas reduction of a carbon project. Upon third-party verification, VCS issues Voluntary Carbon Units (VCUs), which represents emission reductions of one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (C02e). VCS has a carbon registry where carbon credits can be bought, sold and retired.

Projects must follow approved methodologies to prove that emission reductions are real. In addition, VCS requires that all VCUs represent GHG emission reductions or removals that are real, measurable, additional, permanent, independently verified, conservatively estimated, uniquely numbered and transparently listed.

Developing a Methodology for VCS Validation

The VCS accepts any methodology that has been approved under the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism. It also has a host of already approved VCS methodologies that project developers can use to quantify their project’s emissions reductions.  However, for some projects, such as is the case with MCDI, there is no appropriate methodology that currently exists, and VCS allows project developers to develop their own methodology, which then needs to be assessed and validated by VCS through their methodology approval process.

MCDI is taking a unique approach to emissions reductions by focusing on generating carbon offsets by reducing fire intensity and frequency in the VLFRs where we work.  We’ve adopted this approach after assessing the various drivers of deforestation in the region and identified fire as having the most significant impact on deforestation rates. So far there are no other existing REDD+ projects that focus on fire management in dry forests. Consequently, we are required to develop an innovative methodology and management practices to allow us to proceed with this approach (see assessing carbon stocks to learn more).

Therefore, working with our partners, MCDI is currently developing a new VCS methodology that will be suitable for the forest type and drivers of deforestation that apply to our project area. We seek to make our methodology as applicable as possible so that it can be widely used by anyone wishing to fund fire management in such ecosystems via the carbon market. We have partnered with an expert on the VCS methodology development process who will assist us in finalizing the methodology and seek approval and validation through VCS. If our methodology is approved it could open up a whole new frontier in REDD+ opportunities given that miombo woodlands stretch across some 2.8 million km2 of southern Africa, one of the largest expanses of fire-affected dryland forests in the world.

About the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard

The CCB Standard is a project design standard that provides guidance and a host of regulatory steps for projects to demonstrate the multiple benefits of their land-based carbon projects.  CCB Standard does not issue or register carbon credits, but instead validates a project’s socio-economic and environmental co-benefits on top of its ability to deliver robust and credible greenhouse gas reductions.  The achievement of CCB Standard is typically used in conjunction with another standard (most commonly VCS) to certify a project’s carbon credits.

Monitoring Biodiversity

Both FSC and the CCB standards require biodiversity to be monitored in certified forests.

Working with our partner, Ecological Initiatives / Carbon Tanzania, MCDI has identified an appropriate biodiversity monitoring strategy that is designed, so far as it is possible, to track biodiversity responses to early burning and improved fire management.  Over time we expect improved fire management practices will lead to a slow habitat shift towards thicker forest, with some wooded savannah transforming into woodland, and some woodland becoming forest. The biomass increases this will represent will be what the project sells in terms of carbon offsets.

MCDI’s community-based biodiversity monitoring method focuses on three selected indicator bird species, as well as opportunistic recording of large mammals, with data collected by community patrol teams in the REDD project villages.  In addition, we intend to add a second strand of expert-led monitoring looking at relative species abundance in birds. As well as looking at broad scale shifts in the commonest birds, we will also use this to look for changes in ground-nesting birds which, we hypothesise, will be the most likely to be impacted by changes to the fire regime amongst those taxonomic groups which are relatively easy to monitor.