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The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)

The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) (Version 3, 2011) is a Greenhouse Gas Programme, describing itself as a ‘comprehensive quality assurance system used to account for greenhouse gas emission reductions and credits’. It applies to offset projects in the voluntary carbon trading sector and was established by the Verified Carbon Standard Association (VCSA).

To implement the standards, VCS refers to Verified Carbon Units (VCUs) which each represent one tonne of Carbon Dioxide that is removed or reduced in a particular project. And all VCUs produced under the standard must represent GHG emissions that are:

  • Real - accounted for after they occur, not before
  • Measurable - quantifiable against a credible emissions baseline, using scientific practices
  • Additional - must go beyond ‘business as usual’ and reduce emissions that would have occurred in absence of project
  • Permanent - land use projects must ensure that GHG removals last over time. They must dedicate a percentage of credits to a buffer account to draw on in case of losses.
  • Independently verified
  • Conservatively estimated
  • Uniquely numbered
  • Transparently listed.

So as to uphold the standards, there are over 40 independent Verification bodies located across five continents that are accredited by the Verified Carbon Standard Association  - these bodies are tasked with making sure that project descriptions are accurate and that all claimed emmission reductions real. 

Also, as part of the VCS, there is a registry system in which carbon credits can be awarded with unique seriel numbers, meaning that any project and credit can be tracked using their online project database. As such, anyone can gather information for free on VCS registered projects, including data such as their location, and sector type, as well as estimated annual VCU’s. The VCS Registry system involves 3 independent registry providers: APX, Markit, Caisse des Dépôts. .

Market coverage: 

Within the voluntary carbon market, VCS is the leading quality assurance standard - according to the Ecosystem Marketplace's State of the Voluntary Carbon Market, more than half of all transacted credits are issues through the VCS programmes

As of 2014, VCS reports that 1,146 projects have been registered, of which 860 use Verified Carbon Units (VCUs). And, in total, the have issued over 140,000,000 VCUs.  

And, In 2012, 55 per cent of the GHG credits audited to a third party standard and traded in the voluntary market were to the VCS standard, of which 37 per cent were VCS only, 16 per cent were both VCS and Climate, Community and Biodiversity standards (CCB) and 2 per cent were VCS and SOCIALCARBON accredited.

Background information: 

The VCS Association (VCSA) was founded by The Climate Group, International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the World Economic Forum in 2005.  The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) jooined soon after in 2006. In 2009 the VCSA was incorporated as a non-profit in Washington D.C., USA.

It has 10 people on its board with representatives from a number of organisations including founding ones, The International Institute for Sustainable Development, Ecotrust, Norton Rose, Future Vision 2020, Quest Capital and 2CO Energy.

The standard was first released for public comment in 2006. Development of the standard was led by a 19 member expert steering committee – 7 Working Groups and two rounds of public consultation. Version 3 was formally launched in 2011.

Funding source: 

Fee of €0.04 per VCU issued covers the running costs of the Voluntary Carbon Standard Association.

The Standard is supported technically and financially by a number of organisations: Price Waterhouse Cooper, The UK Department for International Development (DFID), International Standards Organisation (ISO), Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Norton Rose, Clifford Chance and Syngenta Foundation.

Notable information: 

Other programmes can also trade in VCS certified offsets: to date the Climate Action Reserve and UN CDM/JI programmes are allowed to cancel credits and reissue them as VCUs.