By Mark Moroge, Breanna Lujan, and Julia Paltseva of the Environmental Defense Fund
The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (IC-VCM) is currently deliberating global thresholds for carbon credit and programme quality to ensure that the “voluntary carbon market accelerates a just transition to 1.5C”. This work is guided by the premise that if you build integrity, then scale will follow – both essential elements of well-functioning carbon markets.
We applaud the efforts and approach of the IC-VCM and note that jurisdictional REDD+ (J-REDD+) programmes can be a critical means for the IC-VCM to achieve its objectives of scale, integrity, and a just transition:
- Scale: By design, J-REDD+ programmes operate at large spatial scales, often at the state or national level. Credit issuances under high-quality J-REDD+ programmes can therefore accelerate efforts to halt tropical deforestation at the scale required to help keep the world on track for the 1.5C target, while also generating larger credit volumes than under a purely project-based approach, which improves market liquidity.
- Integrity: J-REDD+ programmes are well-suited to meet and uphold fundamental thresholds of integrity, like permanence, additionality, and social and environmental safeguards. This is due in part to the large operational scale, inherent systemic changes to policy and governance infrastructure, and longstanding local stakeholder partnerships that are at the heart of high-quality J-REDD+ programmes.
- Just transition: J-REDD+ enables climate finance to flow to tropical countries for their forest conservation achievements, on terms these countries agree to. High-quality J-REDD+ programmes also create the opportunity for large numbers of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) to access and benefit from this climate finance at a scale and speed that has not been possible under other crediting programmes.
Therefore, we encourage the IC-VCM to ensure that high-quality J-REDD+ programmes are eligible under its guidance. [NB – The IC-VCM is aiming to publish its final Core Carbon Principles (CCP) in March, an assessment framework for credit types is due to follow in the spring, with the intention to begin in Q3 labelling the first carbon credits it deems to have high integrity – Carbon Pulse editor]. There is growing consensus that, done right, J-REDD+ credits are high-integrity credits. Notably, high-quality J-REDD+ features prominently in the Tropical Forest Credit Integrity (TFCI) Guide. This consensus guidance, co-authored by Amazon Environmental Research Institute, Conservation International, Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund, clearly signals that high-quality jurisdictional REDD+ credits can drive the voluntary market to higher integrity, while enabling large-scale forest conservation and providing benefits for climate, people, and biodiversity.
J-REDD+ also represents an important market innovation and a promising means for the IC-VCM to achieve its overall objectives. While all credit types can of course be subject to continuous improvement – just like any business product or certification system – there’s no need for opportunities for improvement to become grounds for exclusion. Rather, we encourage the IC-VCM to take steps to ensure that high-quality J-REDD+ programmes are eligible under the first release of its guidance this spring. By enabling high-quality J-REDD+ programmes to be eligible out of the gate, IC-VCM can continue to help shape J-REDD+, alongside any other eligible credit types, towards progressively higher performance requirements over time.
Considering additionality and permanence in a J-REDD+ context
As the IC-VCM continues its thoughtful and thorough deliberations on forthcoming guidance, we encourage it to consider how integrity thresholds can fully consider the attributes of jurisdictional-scale REDD+ programmes that make them high quality, and recognise that jurisdictional approaches to crediting are in some ways fundamentally different from project scale crediting.
Larger scale jurisdictional approaches have the potential to improve additionality and permanence, uphold stringent environmental and social safeguards, and generate various social, environmental, cultural, and biodiversity co-benefits. The TFCI guide, which dives further into these attributes and provides recommendations for differentiating tropical forest carbon credits by impact, quality, and scale, can serve as a helpful resource to the IC-VCM as it builds out its guidance. Specifically, we recommend that the IC-VCM considers revising the criteria for additionality and permanence to ensure that high-quality credits from jurisdictional REDD+ programmes are included and can continue to drive impact and integrity of the voluntary carbon market.
Jurisdictional REDD+ and Additionality
While the additionality of project-scale credits is typically evaluated based on financial viability, this is not appropriate for jurisdictional-scale REDD+ programmes. That is why no current jurisdictional REDD+ standard (e.g., ART TREES, FCPF, Verra JNR) includes this approach. A more appropriate approach to assessing the additionality of jurisdictional REDD+ programmes would be performance based. This approach, which is currently used by ART TREES, for example, recognises the substantial investment of time, resources, and overall political will that has been made to lay the foundation for large-scale forest conservation. Properly implemented JREDD+ programmes are additional because as developing forested countries undergo economic development, they are actively choosing to participate in a REDD+ programme with the expectation that they will receive payment for their performance, rather than continuing along a development pathway that does not protect or enhance forests. These efforts and actions to reduce emissions, made more attractive by REDD+ incentives, would likely not have happened under a business-as-usual scenario.
Jurisdictional REDD+ and Permanence
Instead of only using a timebound approach for assessing permanence, the IC-VCM’s guidance should take a more holistic approach by recognising the fundamental characteristics of jurisdictional REDD+ programmes that can help ensure permanence. In particular, the guidance should consider the impacts of scale, as well as long-standing government and local stakeholder partnerships, policy and legal reforms, and the role of jurisdictional implementation, monitoring, and accounting to both mitigate and address the risk of reversals. Research has shown that large-scale approaches are less impacted by the risk of reversals—the larger the spatial scale of reductions, the more risks of shocks (e.g., fires, fraud, policy reversals) can be dispersed across locations, actors, and time periods; this reduces the likelihood that reversals at any one place or time will impact the net climate benefits recognised under an entire jurisdictional programme. Additionally, the guidance should recognise the buffer and deductions requirements, as well as the measures to incentivise continued participation of jurisdictions that jurisdictional REDD+ standards have in place to manage for the risk of reversals.
Further assessment of these unique characteristics of J-REDD+ programmes—especially regarding additionality, permanence, and other technical dimensions— in order to include, rather than exclude, high-quality J-REDD+ can confer many benefits to the IC-VCM. This includes helping the IC-VCM:
- 1) Achieve its overall objectives of driving scale, integrity and a just transition more rapidly;
- 2) Increase its effectiveness and influence over a broader segment of the carbon credit marketplace;
- 3) Contribute to shaping and harnessing an important market innovation; and
- 4) Create an inclusive and responsive process.
Building on the latter point, developing guidance that includes and supports high-quality J-REDD+ credits would signal that the IC-VCM is responsive to, and supportive of, the urgent need for tropical forest nations and IPLCs to secure more just access to finance for their efforts to conserve forests – which itself has been a long-standing critique of carbon markets that IC-VCM can help resolve. Well-designed J-REDD+ programmes can support effective IPLC engagement and revenue distribution in service of their priorities at the pace and scale that is needed. For example, under Acre’s REDD Early Movers Program (REM), the Incentive System for Environmental Services (SISA)—whose primary beneficiaries are IPLCs—received between 10-30% of the resources, while 70-90% went to on-the-ground beneficiaries, including IPLCs. These types of approaches are codified in high-integrity J-REDD+ standards like ART TREES, which is being increasingly adopted by a growing number of jurisdictions. Therefore, it’s essential that IPLCs are effectively consulted throughout the IC-VCM decision-making process, as resulting outcomes would have direct impacts on their livelihoods. Full and equitable participation of IPLCs in the IC-VCM is essential to upholding integrity.
If we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, we need to rapidly expand the conservation of tropical forests. Voluntary carbon market finance for high-quality credits from jurisdictional REDD+ programmes is one of the most impactful tools to enable this transformation. For all these reasons and many more, we encourage the IC-VCM to take steps to ensure that high-quality J-REDD+ programmes are eligible under the first release of its guidance this spring.
The authors all work for the Natural Climate Solutions team at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a US-based non-profit environmental advocacy group known for its work on issues including global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans, and human health, and advocates using sound science, economics and law to find environmental solutions that work. Mark Moroge is EDF’s Vice President of Natural Climate Solutions, Breanna Lujan is Senior Manager, and Julia Paltseva is Senior Research Analyst, Climate & Forests.
Any opinions published in this commentary reflect the views of the author and not of Carbon Pulse.