Understanding Carbon Offsets
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Registries & Enforcement

The Comparison of Offset Programs: Program Administration and Authority table lists registry information for select offset programs.

Enforcement systems assure that contracts clearly identify ownership of offset credit and define who bears the risk in case of project failure. Carbon offset registries track offset projects and issue offset credits for each unit of emission reduction or removal that is verified and certified. Registries are vital in creating a credible, fungible offset commodity. Registries record the ownership of credits. A serial number is assigned to each verified offset credit. When a credit is sold, the serial number for the reduction is transferred from the account of the seller to an account for the buyer. If the buyer “uses” the credit by claiming it as an offset against their own emissions, the registry retires the serial number so that the credit cannot be resold. In this manner, registries reduce the risk of double counting (that is, to have multiple stakeholders take credit for the same offset.) Registration and enforcement systems must include:

  • A registry with publicly available information to uniquely identify offset projects.
  • Serial numbers for each offset credit generated by each project.
  • A system to transparently track ownership of offsets which makes it possible to trace each credit back to the project from which it originated.
  • A system to easily check on the status of an offset credit (i.e., whether a credit has been retired).
  • Contractual or legal standards that clearly identify the original “owner” of offset credits.
  • Contractual or legal standards that spell out who bears the risk in case of project failure or partial project failure (e.g., who is responsible for replacing the credits that should have been produced by the failed project).

Voluntary Market Registries

There are several registries in the voluntary offset market, which have been developed by governments, non-profits, and the private sector. The following voluntary registries are currently operating: