Research Paper

Comparing Gold Standard and Verra Certification for Biochar Carbon Credits: Key Features and Differences

According to McKinsey, the demand for carbon credits “could increase by a factor of 15 or more by 2030 and by a factor of up to 100 by 2050,” which is how quickly the voluntary carbon market is expanding. In total, the carbon credit market may be valued more than $50 billion in 2030.

There are four established global certifiers / verifiers – Verra, Gold Standard, American Carbon Registry, and Climate Action Reserve. Basically, these four establish the rules of the game for carbon credits by defining terms like additionality, permanence, leakage, etc.

They accomplish this in two ways:

  1. Setting a standard: These are the fundamental guidelines that specify how initiatives are organized, examined, and validated. A standard typically includes a number of methods, which are detailed guidelines for a certain kind of credit or project.
  2. Maintaining a register: A register is maintained to keep track of all the projects that adhere to a given standard, including how many credits they have received, who has purchased and retired them, and other information.

Theoretically, carbon standards/registries assist in ensuring that only high-quality projects reach customers by defining what restrictions projects must abide by. This brings up the following points. How do two of the biggest Carbon certifiers – Verra and Gold Standard account for Biochar project, and what are the difference between the two?

Biochar is a type of charcoal that is produced from biomass and used as a soil amendment for agricultural and environmental purposes. To ensure that biochar is produced sustainably and meets certain environmental and social standards, certification schemes have been developed by organizations such as VERRA and Gold Standard. Both VERRA and Gold Standard are organizations that offer certification for biochar projects. However, there are some differences in their certification standards.

VERRA’s certification standard for biochar is called the VCS (Verified Carbon Standard). VCS certification for biochar projects focuses primarily on the quantification and verification of carbon offsets. VCS-certified biochar projects must meet certain requirements related to project design, monitoring, and reporting, as well as adherence to social and environmental safeguards. VCS also requires a minimum of 50% carbon retention in the biochar over a period of 20 years.

On the other hand, the Gold Standard certification for biochar projects includes a more comprehensive set of requirements that go beyond carbon accounting. In addition to carbon sequestration, Gold Standard also evaluates the project’s impacts on social and environmental factors, including biodiversity, ecosystem services, and local community engagement. Gold Standard also requires a minimum of 30% carbon retention in the biochar over a period of 20 years.

Figure 1. An overview of the World's most popular Carbon standards.

Another difference between the two certification standards is that Gold Standard places more emphasis on the co-benefits of biochar projects, such as improved soil fertility and reduced emissions from other sources, while VCS focuses mainly on the carbon sequestration aspect.

While both VERRA and Gold Standard provide certification for biochar projects, Gold Standard’s certification includes a more comprehensive set of requirements that take into account both social and environmental co-benefits in addition to carbon sequestration.

Here are some of the main differences between the biochar certification schemes offered by VERRA and Gold Standard:

Certification scope: VERRA Biochar Certification covers only the production and use of biochar, whereas the Gold Standard Biochar Certification covers biochar production and use, as well as biomass production and use.

Focus: VERRA’s certification scheme for biochar, called the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), focuses primarily on the carbon sequestration benefits of biochar. In contrast, Gold Standard’s certification scheme for biochar, called the Gold Standard for the Global Goals, places more emphasis on the broader environmental and social impacts of biochar production and use. This are called “Co-benefits”. Gold Standard Biochar Certification requires the identification and quantification of social and environmental co-benefits, in addition to the carbon benefits of the project. VERRA Biochar Certification does not explicitly require the identification or quantification of co-benefits.

Standards: VERRA’s VCS for biochar is based on its general carbon offset standard, which includes requirements for additionality, permanence, and transparency. Gold Standard’s certification scheme for biochar is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and includes requirements for environmental integrity, social and economic benefits, and sustainable production.

Additionality: VERRA’s VCS for biochar requires that the carbon sequestration benefits of biochar be additional to what would have happened in the absence of the project which means that the biochar project would not have been implemented without the financial incentive provided by the certification. Gold Standard’s certification scheme for biochar also requires additionality, but considers a wider range of benefits beyond carbon sequestration, such as improved soil health, reduced air and water pollution, and increased biodiversity.

Project types: VERRA’s VCS for biochar is open to a variety of biochar production and use projects, including those that produce biochar for energy production, as well as those that use biochar for soil carbon sequestration. Gold Standard’s certification scheme for biochar is more focused on projects that use biochar for sustainable agriculture and agroforestry practices. VERRA Biochar Certification applies to biochar production and use projects that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Gold Standard Biochar Certification applies to biochar projects as well as other types of projects that promote sustainable development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon accounting: VERRA Biochar Certification requires a specific carbon accounting methodology, which calculates the net carbon benefit of using biochar. Gold Standard Biochar Certification allows for a variety of carbon accounting methodologies, including the VERRA methodology.

Stakeholder consultation: VERRA Biochar Certification requires stakeholder consultation as part of the project development process. Gold Standard Biochar Certification requires stakeholder engagement, which is a more extensive and participatory process.

Both VERRA and Gold Standard offer biochar certification schemes that provide assurance that biochar is being produced sustainably and meeting certain environmental and social standards. However, the two schemes have different focuses and requirements, which may appeal to different types of biochar producers and users. It’s important to note that both certifications have their own unique requirements and benefits, and the choice of which certification to pursue will depend on the specific goals and priorities of the project.

— Written by Dr.Kshithij Urs, Executive Director, India Biochar and Bioresources Network

The IBBN Secretariat is hosted by the Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture Network and Snehakunja trust, and supported by GIZ  – The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale.

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