What Makes a High-Quality Carbon Offset?

Avoiding Social and Environmental Harms

Short version: To ensure that carbon credit transactions do not make people or the environment worse off, offset projects must avoid causing any (new) social and environmental harms.

Long version: Some projects that avoid GHG emissions or enhance removals can at the same time harm local communities or cause (non-climate related) environmental damage. Some project types have higher risks of causing harm (see risk tables which indicate where these issues could arise for different project types). For example, large-scale hydropower projects, such as those implemented or proposed to be implemented in Brazil through the CDM, can displace local populations, and cause the loss of valuable agricultural land and the loss of ecosystems (e.g., in the flooded reservoir above the hydropower dam). Forestry projects also have the potential to cause harm. For example, in many countries unresolved land tenure issues can result in social harm if communities lose access to forestland, also forestry projects may maximize timber production and CO2 sequestration but this could reduce the forest’s diversity and lead to the degradation of the other ecosystem benefits.

To broadly uphold the principle of environmental integrity, potential harm must be prevented or minimized. At a minimum, projects should demonstrate compliance with all legal requirements in the jurisdiction where they are located. In many cases, however, additional reviews and safeguards may be necessary to guard against negative social and environmental outcomes.

Related pages: