The challenges of verification and validation in carbon markets for reforestation
Carbon credit relies on one thing, trust. Investment in carbon credits could be a complete fraud as the good bought is in most cases just a digital notification. How does the buyer know that this digital record of ownership has caused carbon to be reduced from the environment to the amount claimed? According to Marsh, (2022) only 40% of reforestation carbon credit projects are of high quality.. This is why a key part of the carbon industry relies on verification and validation. On the surface, verification and validation may seem very similar in meaning and almost identical but this is certainly not the case, especially in the world of carbon markets and their voluntary projects.
To begin with, verification looks at how the service/product, in our case usually carbon sequestration, complies with the project's internal parameters. One example is that of a company such as TIST which grows trees to act as carbon sinks. They sell carbon once a tree reaches a certain maturation (age and/or size) to ensure that enough carbon is stored for extended periods of time. These carbon levels are also monitored frequently to maintain data on its progress. The requirements made by the company must be verified to ensure that the product does what it set out to achieve. Many projects therefore choose to have third party verification to help provide this much needed transparency, whereby the unbiased eye of a third party company checks all the actions being taken and records them in a truthful manner. One such organization,, Verra is the world's largest carbon crediting program whose expertise and status is well recognized in the carbon community. They subject all their partners to auditing following their own specific accounting methodologies and finally maintain information on their partners on a public registry to enhance transparency. According to (Woo et al., 2021) a key technology that can help facilitate these processes is blockchain with aid from AI for continuous reviewing of data. These are some of the ways of creating seamless intermediaries for carbon credits to connect no matter where someone may be.
In contrast, validation takes into consideration how this product/service is meeting the needs of the customer from an external viewpoint. In the use case of reforestation and carbon credits, customers want to ensure trees are being planted or protected and by the amount they have bought. Such carbon project plans must be evaluated to see if it is feasible for a customer to invest. Transparency of these projects is critical to create and build trust with the customer, made all the more important by the increasing number of false and sometimes fraudulent projects that are operating. For example, a customer, often based overseas or only known virtually, may be told that the project is growing hundreds of trees but in reality, the land is far too small or inhospitable for this to be the case. Further, counting and maintaining accurate data on the trees and their carbon sequestration can also be difficult due to a lack of basic infrastructure, such as good wifi or cellular connection for data access and distribution. In a relatively immature market with no overriding regulatory body, the validation of these and other similar carbon projects is a real challenge.
In sum, carbon credits are often seen to be a bridge to enable the world to meet carbon neutrality, helping us to become more sustainable. However, for this to occur they must be used responsibly and effectively. Understanding processes of verification and validation as two key mechanisms by which transparency may be enhanced is important in helping build trust in the emerging market of carbon credits thereby safeguarding its growth and development.
Marsh, A. (2022, November 3). Carbon-credit 'fraud' assumptions are challenged in new study. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-11-03/carbon-credit-fraud-assumptions-are-challenged-in-new-study
Plant Trees & buy validated/verified carbon credits from our award-winning farmers-first reforestation project: TIST program. Plant Trees & Buy Validated/Verified Carbon Credits from our Award-Winning Farmers-First Reforestation Project | TIST Program. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://program.tist.org/
Verified carbon standard. Verra. (2023, February 14). Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://verra.org/programs/verified-carbon-standard/
Woo, J., Fatima, R., Kibert, C. J., Newman, R. E., Tian, Y., & Srinivasan, R. S. (2021). Applying blockchain technology for Building Energy Performance Measurement, reporting, and Verification (MRV) and the Carbon Credit Market: A review of the literature. Building and Environment, 205, 108199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.108199