Understanding Carbon Offsets

Verified Carbon Standard

Type of Standard and Context

The Verified Carbon Standard is a full-fledged carbon offset program developed and run by the non-profit Verra. It focuses on GHG reduction attributes only and does not require projects to have additional environmental or social benefits. The VCS is broadly supported by the carbon offset industry (project developers, large offset buyers, verifiers, and projects consultants) and is active globally.

Click to visit the Verra Project Registry.

The VCS version 1 was published jointly in March 2006 by The Climate Group (TCG), the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Greenhouse Register. VCS version 2 was released in October of 2006, as a consultation document, and following public consultation and technical review, the VCS 2007 was launched in November 2007. The Steering Committee which reviewed these comments and approved VCS 2007 was made up of members from NGOs, auditors, industry associations, project developers, and large offset buyers. The VCS 2007.1 added protocols for project implementation with agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) sectors, projects to be included in November 2008. VCS Version 3, was launched in March 2011. Version 3 expanded the scope and functionality of the VCS Program, clarified program rules and requirements, and incorporated the text of program updates issued since the launch of VCS 2007. VCS Version 4 launched in September 2019. Follow this link to locate the most recent program materials.

Start-up funding for the VCS Association came from the Climate Group, the IETA, and the WBCSD. Costs are covered by a levy charged at the point of Voluntary Carbon Unit (VCU) issuance. The VCS is now a program of Verra which houses the VCS, and the CCBS among other environmental standards. The governance structure under Verra remains the same as in previous iterations for the VCS.

Standard Authority and Administrative Bodies

The VCS is managed and overseen by the VCS Program Advisory Group and the Verra Board. The VCS Program Advisory Group provides strategic guidance to Verra staff on the evolution of the VCS Program, Rules, and insight to support the range of user groups.

The Verra Board has a number of responsibilities. It is responsible for approving any substantial changes to the VCS. It also makes a final determination regarding the approval of other GHG programs under the VCS and has the authority to suspend an approved program temporarily or indefinitely if changes are made to it that affect its compatibility with the VCS Program. The Verra Board has the authority to approve accreditation bodies that will accredit validators and verifiers, and also approves registries that can join the VCS Registry System. Finally, the Verra Board makes final decisions on any appeals brought forward to the VCS.

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

Third-party auditors must be accredited either under an approved GHG Program or under the ISO 14065:2007 and with an accreditation scope specifically for the VCS project type or approved GHG Program, and region in question. Unlike the CDM, accredited third-party auditors can validate and verify the same project and give final project approval.

Regional Scope

The VCS is an international voluntary GHG offset program.

Recognition of Other Standards/ Linkage with Other Trading Systems

In early 2008, the VCS Program recognized the CDM and JI, and in late 2008 it recognized the Climate Action Reserve as acceptable to be listed within the VCS Registry and have their project credits converted to Voluntary Carbon Units (VCUs).

A process exists for approving GHG programs that meet VCS Program criteria. The program in question must demonstrate compliance with the VCS Program, hire an external qualified consultant team to complete a detailed gap analysis of the two programs to evaluate the proposed program, and then the Board decides to either fully adopt or adopt elements of the other offset program based upon the consultant’s analysis report. The approval process is based on the principle of full compatibility with the VCS program, with acceptance required by the Verra Board.

If an entire offset standard is fully adopted by the VCS, all their auditors and methodologies are automatically accepted by the VCS, and credits certified by that standard can be fungible with VCUs. Verra periodically reviews approved programs to ensure continued compliance with the VCS Program.