A Taylor Swift moment for carbon markets

A Taylor Swift moment for carbon markets


Taylor Swift performs.

Are voluntary carbon markets gonna be forever, or are they gonna go down in flames? | AP Photos

BIG REPUTATION — Expectations were sky-high for last week’s release of standards for the voluntary carbon market.

“It’s the next Taylor Swift album,” said Julia Strong, head of business development for NCX, a developer of forestry offset projects. “There’s a lot of hope riding on it.”

The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market, a group headed by former SEC Commissioner Annette Nazareth, is doing what the name suggests — trying to bring integrity to a market that’s reeling from repeated blows to its reputation, even as it tries to position itself as one of the world’s best hopes for getting climate change under control.

Early reviews of the group’s “core carbon principles,” though, are that they’re more like ‘Reputation’ than ‘Midnights.’ (Don’t come at us!)

There’s a broad recognition that the standards need to eventually hurt someone in order to help the rest of the market thrive — kind of like the Hunger Games. Some types of projects will need to be the anti-hero and get ostracized in order for the Integrity Council to live up to its name.

“It’s not that we have some power to lock anyone out of the market,” said William McDonnell, the ICVCM’s chief operating officer. “But because there’s been a lot of market support for our work, I would expect that the market forces will then gravitate finance towards the high-quality activities that do meet our principles.”

Market participants are eager to put reputational issues behind them and see daylight. They know all too well that not all types of projects are created equal. (Forestry projects have come in for particular criticism recently, but cookstove replacement projects can also be treacherous, for example.)

“Everybody’s selling high-quality credits, and it’s super frustrating to me that they’re not all high-quality credits,” said Keegan Eisenstadt, director for global nature-based solutions at South Pole, an offset project financier that a Bloomberg article last month alleged overestimated emissions savings from a forest in Zimbabwe. “The market does need a way to differentiate these things.”

The question is where the group will draw lines. Many thought last week’s release of principles and an “assessment framework” would get them out of the woods.

The documents profess support for bedrock concepts like “additionality” (that projects wouldn’t have occurred if someone wasn’t paying for them) and “permanence” (that the reductions won’t be reversed), and they do specify that things like “ex ante” crediting (when a project issues credits before the reductions actually occur) aren’t allowed.

Aside from that and a few other provisions, though, carbon market watchdogs think of it as just another picture to burn. They’re looking for more detail on how the standards will differentiate projects that avoid additional emissions from those that actively remove carbon from the atmosphere, for example, as well as distinguish between temporary and permanent carbon reductions.

“Taking these issues seriously would likely result in excluding the majority of credits available in today’s market,” Freya Chay, a program manager with the nonprofit CarbonPlan, said in an email. “I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.”

Some are encouraged by its focus on best practices.

“If it looks boring, it’s probably on the right track,” said Amy Bann, head of supply and ecosystem at carbon market exchange Xpansiv, and a member of the ICVCM’s taskforce. (Xpansiv is planning to include an option for buyers on its platform to filter projects by ICVCM status.)

To address our editor’s eternal question: Is this all bullshit, dear reader?

Maybe. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s still a gold rush. Transactions reached $2 billion in 2021, according to Ecosystem Marketplace. Sixty-three percent of Fortune 500 companies have set mid-century climate targets, a survey from Climate Impact Partners found last year, and many of them are using carbon credits to get there.

A poster is displayed.

Big tech, fossil fuel and financial services companies attended a carbon market panel at NCX last week. | Debra Kahn/POLITICO

Long story short: Observers say the next round of ICVCM documents, due out this summer, will need to be way more than a blank space.

“If the next one doesn’t look a little bit like legalese that really draws the line and makes it hard to blur it, then it’ll keep getting blurred, and things will be questioned,” said Zack Parisa, NCX’s CEO and co-founder.

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TRAGIC KINGDOM — The culture clash between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is escalating into a land war, Andrew Atterbury reports.

DeSantis on Monday requested a state investigation into Disney’s attempt to retain authority over its special land district near Orlando, which state lawmakers created a new board last year to oversee.

Disney CEO Bob Iger called Florida’s retaliation “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”

“The company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do,” Iger said at Disney’s annual shareholders meeting Monday, as reported by CNN.


SNOW PATROL — California’s snowpack is the deepest in more than 70 years, officials said Monday — great news, as Camille von Kaenel reports, but also posing a threat of springtime flooding.

The potential for disastrous flooding is highest in the southern San Joaquin Valley, which lies below the southern Sierra Nevada, where the snowpack was at 306 percent of normal — an all-time record.

Officials are worried about snowmelt overwhelming rivers and reservoirs later in the spring and summer. “It is truly an extraordinary moment, but we don’t get to stop and enjoy that for too long,” said Karla Nemeth, the director of California’s Department of Water Resources.


GAME ON — How many T. Swift songs did we reference in today’s edition? Email Jordan with your answer.

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— Texas lawmakers’ efforts to protect the fossil fuel industry are threatening the state’s rise to primacy in renewable energy production, according to the Financial Times.

Bloomberg takes a look at how OPEC’s production cut will affect efforts to fight climate change.

— In case you were wondering, the West’s wet winter hasn’t solved the Colorado River crisis. The Washington Post has that story.

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