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Climate Week NYC was, as always, a whirlwind of wonky panels, networking, catching up with friends, former colleagues, and former classmates, subway rides, sweaty walks across Manhattan, FOMO, and emotional swings between optimism and desperation about the state of the climate crisis and carbon markets. This year felt larger than ever, and Indigo’s team of 10 spread out across the city to participate in more than 40 events and meetings.
With a large volume of new attendees, both at the organization and individual level, deep expertise and real experience delivering solutions are in high demand. We saw lots of buzz around some of the continuing updates to key standards and frameworks setting the "rules of road" in both the carbon crediting and Scope 3 emissions worlds (IC-VCM CCPs, VCMI Claims Code, GHGP LS&R, SBTi BVCM, SEC guidance, and more). Players across the industry are watching these closely and seeking to balance an urgent need for climate action with the uncertainty generated by the unresolved status and interrelated nature of some of these frameworks.
My particular focus during Climate Week often revolves around the rules and standards that govern greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting and high integrity action. During the week I was asked to give a presentation on the development of high-integrity and innovative offset project protocols (or methodologies, if you will). One aspect of my presentation seemed to really resonate so I wanted to expand on it a bit in this blog post.
Continuous Improvement is a Feature, Not a Bug.
This quote was a bullet point in one of my slides and over the rest of the week it came up again in several conversations and panels. During my time at Indigo and previously at the Climate Action Reserve I've been involved in the development or updating of more than two dozen offset project protocols. While the initial creation and publication of a new protocol can be thrilling, often it's the subsequent updates that lead to greater scale and project success. In general, protocol revisions result in higher accuracy, better ease of use, more clarity, and closing of gaps or opportunities for gaming, among other things. Except in rare cases of serious errors or flaws, credits issued to earlier versions should continue to be viewed as credible since they were issued under the best practice guidance of that time. But it is through implementation of projects under these protocols that theory can be converted into practice, and we can learn what works and what doesn't.
When a new protocol is an adaptation of an existing protocol, we have the luxury of being able to look to the experiences of past projects. But when a new protocol involves significant new thinking and innovation, there may still be much to learn through implementation!
When Indigo launched our Carbon by Indigo program, we participated in the development of two protocols: the Climate Action Reserve Soil Enrichment Protocol and the VCS VM0042 methodology with Verra. Both were adopted in late 2020 and both have since been updated! We are currently issuing credits under CAR SEP v1.1 and look forward to the CAR process to develop a v2.0 update. We are also working to implement VCS VM0042, which is now on version 2.0. Examples of improvements include small things, like fixing typos within equations, to larger things, like adopting an improved method for accounting for uncertainty. The key is that the updates and any associated process should be documented. For example, both CAR and Verra provide a summary of the changes within each update.
Lastly, while this post has focused on offset protocols, the same concept holds true for other GHG accounting guidance, such as for scope 3 emissions within corporate inventories. There is no such thing as perfect, so we need to do the best we can with the tools and guidance we have today, while also committing to continuous improvement and transparency along the way.