General Questions

The Carbon Credit Quality Initiative (CCQI) was established to provide free, transparent information on the quality of carbon credits to enable users to identify carbon credits that deliver higher climate mitigation impact and offer greater social and environmental benefits.

CCQI was founded and is managed by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US) and Oeko-Institut, a leading European research and consultancy institution working for a sustainable future. Scores published by CCQI are derived from applying the CCQI assessment methodology. The assessment is led by Oeko-Institut, with support from experienced carbon market experts from Carbon Limits, Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI), INFRAS and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Draft results are reviewed by the full CCQI team before public release. All experts involved in CCQI have deep expertise in carbon markets and are not employed by project developers or carbon crediting programs.

CCQI is currently financed by the founding non-profit organizations EDF, WWF-US, and Oeko-Institut. CCQI is not funded, even in part, by revenues related to carbon credits.

Carbon credits are a tool to finance climate mitigation projects. The revenues from carbon credits can enable the implementation of projects which would not have otherwise taken place. The countries and companies buying carbon credits can claim financing those emissions reductions and removals.

For carbon credits to contribute to global climate goals, their greenhouse gas mitigation impact must be assured. Credits generated and sold into the market which fail to meet high standards can undermine climate action.

Carbon markets are experiencing massive growth despite concerns regarding the quality of credits and a lack of clarity for buyers how to navigate the diverse offerings in the market. CCQI aims to address this uncertainty and enhance demand for high-quality carbon credits as buyers become equipped with the tools needed to make more informed purchasing decisions. This shift in demand and the quality assessments by CCQI may in turn encourage carbon crediting programs, project developers, and other market participants to pursue the highest standards and align the use of carbon credits with the Paris Agreement.

The IC-VCM is a governance body established for the voluntary carbon market which will set threshold standards for carbon credits against Core Carbon Principles (CCPs), under which credits will be deemed eligible or not eligible. CCQI does not establish a threshold standard but recognizes that carbon credits often have a broad spectrum of quality. CCQI uses scores from 1 to 5 ("5" being the highest quality score) and applies them to different "quality objectives" to allow users to understand the nuances and trade-offs in the quality of carbon credits and make more informed decisions. CCQI will be complementary to the IC-VCM, and we expect that there will be some alignment between CCQI's methodology and IC-VCM's assessment of carbon credit quality.

Scores are currently available for three project types (efficient cookstoves, establishment of natural forests, and landfill gas utilization) under four crediting programs (Climate Action Reserve, Clean Development Mechanism, Gold Standard, and Verra's Verified Carbon Standard).

CCQI plans to assess at least five more project types in 2022. These project types include (1) Large-scale grid-connected solar power, (2) large-scale grid-connected wind power, (3) avoidance of methane emissions from oil and gas flaring, (4) avoidance of methane emissions from leaks in natural gas pipelines, and (5) avoidance of methane emissions from livestock manure management. These project types were selected to provide a mix of wide market coverage (solar and wind) and to address methane emissions (flaring, pipelines, and livestock). CCQI will also assess one additional crediting program (American Carbon Registry) and two complementary standards (Verra's Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard and Verra's Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards).

As carbon markets grow and evolve, the CCQI project team will continue to work with stakeholders to further refine our approach and provide updates on our website. The CCQI project team will explore opportunities to present CCQI insights and resources to interested buyers and will partner with stakeholders to ensure greater scale of CCQI's impact.

Questions on Our Methodology

CCQI developed a methodology to assess project-based carbon credits against 19 criteria which are grouped under seven "quality objectives". The methodology is designed to be applied to both individual projects and to broader categories of carbon credits based on their underlying characteristics like project type, crediting program, and host country. Applying the methodology produces a score of 1-5 for each quality objective and criterion. The methodology is publicly available so stakeholders can use it themselves to derive their own scores – next to using the scores produced by the CCQI team. Details of the methodology can be found here [LINK].

The quality of a carbon credit relies on many different factors. CCQI uses comprehensive quality criteria that are weighed based on their importance and the context in which the carbon credit is generated and used. Together, these criteria contribute to the scores for the following quality objectives:

  • Robust determination of the GHG emissions impact: How well does the credit ensure additionality and robust quantification of emissions reductions and removals?
  • Avoiding double counting: How well does the carbon crediting program avoid different forms of double counting?
  • Addressing non-Permanence: Does the carbon credit have significant risks of non-permanence, in which stored carbon is lost though natural or anthropogenic disturbances? Does the carbon crediting program have adequate provisions to mitigate those risks?
  • Facilitating a transition towards net-zero emissions: Is the credit contributing toward the adoption of low, zero or negative emissions technologies and practices, and avoids lock-in of technologies and practices that lead to continuous GHG emissions?
  • Strong institutional arrangements and processes: How strong are the institutional arrangements of the carbon crediting program issuing the credits? Does the program have strong governance, transparency, and auditing practices?
  • Environmental and social impacts: How robust are the program's environmental and social safeguards? What are the typical expected sustainable development impacts of the project type? Does the carbon credit contribute to improving adaptation and resilience?
  • Host country ambition: Is the host country where the project is located committed to global temperature goals and pursuing an ambitious NDC?

The scores are designed to provide users with a nuanced picture of how a carbon credit performs. This allows users to make informed decisions based on which quality features and scores are most important to them.

The methodology gives different weights to different quality criteria but allows users to access the individual scores for all sub-criteria. Depending on the criterion, the assessment methodology uses two methods for scoring: 1) a simple point system, in which more points lead to a higher score; and 2) inverse weighing, where a score weighs the stronger, the more it differs from maximal possible score of 5. This means that a low score in one criterion cannot be easily made up by high scores in other criteria. Inverse weighing is used to ensure that the carbon credit must score high in all criteria in order to receive an overall high score. This approach is used because high quality of carbon credits can only be ensured if they perform well against all criteria. For example, a carbon credit with a low likelihood of additionality will receive a low score on quality objective 1 even if the emission reductions are very robustly quantified.

CCQI distinguishes between three forms of double counting: Double issuance, double use, and double claiming. Moreover, robust registry and project database systems are a prerequisite for avoiding all forms of double counting.

Stakeholders hold varying views regarding whether, or under which circumstances, the use of carbon credits towards voluntary targets constitutes double claiming or whether and under which circumstances double claiming with host country NDC should be avoided when using carbon credits towards voluntary commitments. Avoiding such double claiming would require host countries to authorize the use of the carbon credits for Article 6 purposes and to apply "corresponding adjustments".

CCQI allows users of the scoring tool to determine scores both for carbon credits that are authorized for Article 6 purposes, and for which "corresponding adjustments" will be applied, and for carbon credits that have not been authorized. Some criteria, such as the robustness of the carbon crediting program's procedures for avoiding double claiming (criterion 2.4.2), are only applicable to carbon credits that are authorized for Article 6 purposes. This twin-track approach allows scoring to be adapted to the needs of the user.

Environmental and social safeguards are an important quality criterion in CCQI's assessments. CCQI's methodology considers how robust a program's environmental and social safeguards are, whether the program contributes to sustainable development, and whether it contributes to improving adaptation and resilience. Local stakeholder consultation, explicit protections for local communities and ecosystems, and adherence to human rights are integral parts of CCQI's assessment methodology.

CCQI's methodology is a transparent and open-access product that is available for public use. Applying the methodology, however, requires a thorough understanding of carbon crediting and is recommended for use by those with technical backgrounds. Some criteria for assessing carbon credits are straightforward to apply, but others require deep technical expertise, such as assessing the robustness of methodological approaches for quantifying emission reductions and removals. The methodology should be applied by independent experts that do not have financial or other interests in specific evaluation results. CCQI also offers an Excel tool [LINK] to help users apply the methodology and derive their own scores.

Users of the website may use the scores at their discretion.

Not at all. CCQI is designed as a transparent and independent source of quality assessment to help carbon crediting programs and other market stakeholders improve, and to help buyers compare carbon credits across crediting programs. Carbon crediting programs play an important role to ensure quality. By assessing carbon crediting programs, we hope to catalyze better understanding on how carbon crediting programs can fill their important role.

While bespoke projects that issue carbon credits may be able to attain a high-level of quality without being certified by a carbon crediting program, a buyer takes on more risk by purchasing these non-certified credits. Buyers should be aware of this reputational risk and the potential incentives they may send to other project developers to not certify with an established crediting program, which could eventually erode confidence in the quality of carbon credit markets.

Questions on our Assessments

The CCQI project team does not assess individual projects, but others may use the CCQI methodology for project-specific assessments. The CCQI methodology is designed to be applied to both individual projects and to project types under circumstances selected in the scoring tool.

Scores provided on the CCQI website are representative of the typical conditions of a given project type under the circumstances selected in the scoring tool, not of any specific project. Scores are risk-based and indicative of the confidence or likelihood that the assessment subject meets each quality objective. Scores are illustrated on an interval basis from 1 to 5, with 5 representing the highest score. The scores have the following meaning:

Very high confidence or likelihood that the assessment subject meets the criterion or quality objective.
High confidence or likelihood that the assessment subject meets the criterion or quality objective.
Moderate confidence or likelihood that the assessment subject meets the criterion or quality objective.
Low confidence or likelihood that the assessment subject meets the criterion or quality objective.
Very low confidence or likelihood that the assessment subject meets the criterion or quality objective.

"NA" means that a quality objective or criterion has not been assessed. "NR" means that the quality objective or criterion is not relevant for the carbon credit under consideration. CCQI displays a separate score for each quality objective to present a nuanced picture of how a carbon credit performs. The CCQI project team does not aggregate the scores of quality objectives into a single score. CCQI does not set a "good/bad" threshold either and instead allows users to determine which quality features and scores they most value.

Users should be aware that scores only represent expected quality for the type of project – the performance of individual projects could vary considerably. Therefore, insights from using the scores should be supplemented, if possible, with further due diligence on individual projects. Please also note our Site Terms and Private Policy [LINK] in relation to these scores.

CCQI scores can be a first step in a due diligence process to inform carbon credit purchasing decisions. If buyers are unsure of which project they would like to support, CCQI scores can be used to better understand the quality considerations of different project types under "typical" conditions. If you are considering a specific project, CCQI scores can be used to identify areas of particular risk for the relevant project. As individual projects may have different features than those assumed for the CCQI scores, understanding the risks associated with a project's circumstances may inform further follow-ups with the carbon credit seller.

CCQI scores and the underlying methodology can be used to identify opportunities to improve a program's rules and address risks identified with specific project types.

CCQI scores can be used to identify areas of particular risk for a project and inform action that a project developer may take to safeguard against those risks. Insights from CCQI assessments may provide insights on how project developers can improve their projects.

It is vital that carbon credit retailers and exchanges only offer credits that deliver high-quality emissions reductions or removals. As market participants, third-party retailers and exchanges should be applying their own due diligence to the credits they choose to make available to clients and users of their services. CCQI scores and the underlying methodology may be used as a first step to understand the risks associated with a project's circumstances. This information may be a starting point for evaluating a carbon credit's feature more thoroughly, and may inform further follow-ups with the project owner or carbon crediting program.

No. Quality Objective 5 evaluates a program's governance, transparency, and third-party auditing rules. These evaluation criteria are only a part of CCQI's evaluation of crediting program's rules (CCQI also assesses crediting program rules under Quality Objectives 1, 2, 3, and 6). Quality Objective 5 aims to assess the extent to which a program has strong institutional arrangements and processes in place to ensure that the program is governed consistently with its mission, that stakeholders have a transparent and accessible view into a program's decision-making and that third-party auditing is robust. Failure to score high on these criteria may indicate that a crediting program would benefit from a stronger or more comprehensive ruleset, but the score for Quality Objective 5 should not be interpreted as an overall score of the crediting program.

To use CCQI's scoring tool to assess a carbon credit's quality, you will need the following information:

  • The project type of your credit (e.g., landfill gas utilization)
  • The carbon credit program (e.g., Clean Development Mechanism)
  • The host country where the project is located
  • When the emissions reductions or removals occurred
  • The quantification methodology under which the credit was generated (e.g., AMS-III.G.: Landfill methane recovery)

Additional prompts may be asked, depending on the answer to these questions. The requested information should be accessible from the crediting program's website or project database. Alternatively, you can request this information from the carbon credit owner or project developer you intend to purchase from. In some instances, it is possible to provide answer "I do not know". In this case, the lower score among the potential answers is calculated.

No. CCQI does not score individual projects. Scores produced by CCQI are representative of the typical conditions of a given project type under the circumstances selected in the scoring tool. It is fully expected that individual projects can perform differently because each project is unique and project owners can and should take measures to address areas of risk for a given project type. CCQI assessments should be supplemented with other due diligence measures for best results.

In all cases, additional due diligence is recommended when assessing individual carbon credit projects, such as conducting independent research on the project; conducting site visits; or soliciting third-party expertise.

CCQI's methodology uses an approach referred to as inverse weighing to aggregate scores for criteria into a total score for a quality objective. Under inverse weighing a score gets a higher overall weight the lower it is. This can lead to quality objective score that is lower than the criteria. This approach is pursued because it is deemed necessary that a carbon credit performs well on many criteria in order to get a high score for a quality objective. If the performance is mediocre on several criteria, the overall quality objective may not be fulfilled at all, and thus rewards a lower score than the individual criteria scores.

Some quality objectives contain complementary criteria that only applicable under certain conditions. This applies for example for criteria that are only evaluated if carbon credits are authorized for use under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (e.g., criteria 2.4.1 and 2.4.2). In these cases, the scoring tool returns an "NR" (not relevant) for these criteria.

Further, some sub-criteria have not been assessed. This holds for criteria that can only be applied to individual projects, which is outside the current scope of CCQI assessments (e.g., criterion 6.3 on a project's "contribution to adaptation and resilience"). Moreover, some criteria have not been assessed because the necessary information is not yet available (e.g., criterion 2.4.1 on the host-country readiness to authorize carbon credits for Article 6 purposes) or due to our limited resources (e.g., quality objective 7 on host country ambition). In these cases, the scoring tool returns an "NA" (not assessed) for the criterion. Further, the function for calculating the score for the respective quality objective has been adapted in the scoring tool to reflect cases where criteria are not assessed.