There has been increasing pressure on corporates to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, including from investors through engagement. This has led to many companies committing to achieve net zero emissions. While reducing emissions is an evident priority to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, often eliminating residual corporate emissions is either expensive or not yet technologically feasible. Thus, many net zero commitments either implicitly or explicitly rely on carbon ‘offsetting’: where carbon emitters purchase verified units of greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal to compensate for remaining emissions. Emitters are increasingly turning to the voluntary carbon market to source these carbon offset credits, or developing offset projects themselves, particularly through Nature Based Solutions (NBS).
The voluntary carbon market is growing quickly to meet this increasing demand. Over $1bn worth of carbon credits were transacted on the market for the first time in 2021, a three-fold increase on 2020. However, with this rapid expansion has come considerable growing pain. Critiques of the market focus on the legitimacy of the claims made by both credit sellers and credit buyers. Some projects which sell credits have been criticised for failing to have the additional and long-term climate impact they claim, and for generating negative environmental and social side effects. Credit buyers can be embroiled in project level controversies and can also be accused of greenwashing if they conduct profligate purchasing of offset credits with limited efforts to decarbonise. Even legitimate offset buyers and sellers face reputational risks due to the current lack of consensus on what constitutes credible offsetting.
We have a strong history of active engagement with the companies we hold and those we engage with on behalf of our Reo clients. Here we aim to communicate our perspective on when companies should use offsets, which offsets they should be using, and how companies should use and disclose on their use of offsets. Our principles build on the established quality standards already in the market but aim to raise the level of expectation. Our intention is that we will revisit and revise these principles as the voluntary carbon market evolves.
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