What Makes a High-Quality Carbon Offset?

Questions for buyers to ask about ownership claims

Although carbon crediting programs generally have effective measures in place to prevent double counting, there are still some steps that carbon credit buyers can take to make sure they have an exclusive claim to the avoided emissions or enhanced removals for which the credits were issued. Key questions to ask include:

  • When carbon credits are retired, are the purpose and beneficiary of the retirement indicated in a carbon crediting program registry? Buyers should ask to see proof of credit retirement on the relevant registry – including certificate numbers or a transaction ID that matches the quantity purchased – along with an identified purpose and the beneficiary of the retirement.
  • Were the carbon credits issued for avoiding offsite emissions? Ownership claims are harder to police where they involve emissions that occur at sources not owned or controlled by the project developers. Claims to these avoided emissions are inherently riskier because there is always a chance that the entities who do own or control the sources may claim the avoided emissions themselves. Major carbon crediting programs generally try to prevent conflicting claims by having project owners legally attest to having an exclusive claim to credited avoided emissions. However, it can sometimes be difficult (if not impossible) to determine exactly where emissions are physically avoided (e.g., at unidentified electric power plants), making the truth of such attestations difficult to verify. Where risks of double claiming seem significant (for example, if avoided GHG emissions occur in sectors with significant voluntary commitments or regulatory obligations), buyers should avoid carbon credits from such projects.