What Makes a High-Quality Carbon Offset?

Questions for Buyers to Ask About Additionality

None of the program-administered screens for additionality are perfect. Some key questions to avoid lower quality projects include the following:

  • Did the project secure a buyer for offset credits before implementation? Given the risks and uncertainties of the carbon market, it is very rare for a project that truly needs offset credit revenue to go forward without first securing buyers for some or all of the credits it expects to produce. Forward contracts generally take the form of “emission reduction purchase agreements” (ERPAs). If a project began implementation without an ERPA, its claims to additionality should be further examined.
  • How large is the project’s offset credit revenue stream compared to other revenue streams or cost savings achieved by the project? Claims of additionality are often tenuous if carbon offset revenues constitute a small portion of a project’s total revenues. For example, if 95% of the total revenues for a renewable energy project derive from electricity sales and only 5% are from offset credit revenue, the project’s additionality should be questioned.
  • Would the project cease reducing emissions if it did not continue to receive carbon offset revenues? Even if a project’s offset credit revenue is comparable to (or greater than) other revenue streams, those other revenues may be sufficient to cover costs – meaning that the project may continue reducing emissions even if it stopped selling carbon offset credits. While such projects are not necessarily non-additional — the decision to implement the project, for example, may still have been based on the prospect of carbon offset sales – they may pose a higher risk of being non-additional.
  • If the project is not (currently) legally required, is there reason to believe that it is being undertaken in anticipation of future legal requirements (or to avoid triggering such requirements in the future)? Programs may differ in the extent to which they examine prospective legal requirements. For example, a landfill gas flaring project may not be currently required by law, but landfill owners may seek to implement such a project anyway if they anticipate being mandated to control landfill emissions in the future (e.g., as the landfill grows to where it exceeds a regulatory size threshold). Thus, they could claim that the project is additional today, even though it would be implemented anyway in the (near) future.