What Makes a High-Quality Carbon Offset?

Questions for buyers to ask about social and environmental harms

Asking the following questions can help reduce the risk of purchasing offset credits from harmful projects:

  • Prior to implementation, did the project developers engage and consult with local stakeholders potentially affected by the project? Stakeholder consultation can be particularly important in developing countries, where there are often fewer regulatory safeguards. If stakeholder outreach was not undertaken, this failure should raise concerns, though the seriousness may depend on the type of project involved and where it is located. Some types of projects pose fewer risks to local communities than others.
  • Has the project received any program or third-party certifications affirming its environmental or social co-benefits? Generally, such certifications (e.g., from the CCBA; SOCIALCARBON; or offset programs themselves) can provide added assurance that a project will not cause harm and ensure that project developers have taken into account the concerns of local stakeholders. Projects that have not received any co-benefit certification do not necessarily pose a high risk of harm, but it may be useful to inquire with project developers about why they did not seek certification if it was an option.
  • What has the project done to minimize risks and reduce potential harm? Sticking to lower risk offset project types contains a list of general project types and identifies those for which the risk of social or environmental harms may be significant. Where there is a significant risk, it is crucially important to understand a project’s specific circumstances, how it has addressed potential risks and the concerns of local stakeholders, and what mechanisms it has in place to both avoid harms and compensate for them if they occur. The CCBS, for example, requires ongoing community impact monitoring associated with forestry projects.