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Standardising the standards

17 June, 2022

The concept of net zero has quickly gained traction among corporates and governments alike. But the concept presents challenges when applied to individual organisations and, as with any new concept, it takes a bit of time to define.

The latest attempt to define net zero for business is the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity (VCMI) initiative, which launched its trial code for assessing the credibility of corporate net zero claims last week. You’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu: the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) launched its own Net-Zero Standard last year to provide a framework and validation for businesses looking to set net zero targets.

But where the SBTi set a high standard for when businesses can claim to be net zero – when they have reduced emissions by 90% and offset the remainder – this left open the question of how businesses can invest in voluntary carbon markets and get credit for this necessary investment in the meantime. The VCMI, developed by a group including BEIS and the Children’s Investments Fund Foundation, intends to resolve this challenge by creating a standard with a gold, silver and bronze level for corporate net zero targets according to their progress towards emissions reduction targets and quantity of offsetting.

This gives more texture to assessing net zero commitments, where the SBTi’s single, high-quality standard gives less credit to companies going further with offsetting. However, this also must be balanced with the risk of overwhelming the space with too many certifications, standards and initiatives.

Without requiring science-based targets to be validated by the SBTi or “high-quality offsets” to meet any specific standards, the VCMI risks adding confusion without credibility. We will watch with interest as the VCMI tries to establish a meaningful role in the corporate climate commitments ecosystem.

By Patrick Bapty

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