The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas (GHG) crediting program.
The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program is the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas (GHG) crediting program. It drives finance toward activities that reduce and remove emissions, improve livelihoods, and protect nature. VCS projects have reduced or removed nearly one billion tons of carbon and other GHG emissions from the atmosphere. The VCS Program is a critical and evolving component in the ongoing effort to protect our shared environment.
By marrying scientific rigor and transparency with innovative thinking, the VCS Program has continually brought new projects, organizations, and people into the voluntary carbon market, as well as a growing number of compliance markets, and given them the necessary confidence to participate.
Why Carbon Markets?
Individuals, companies, or organizations often cannot, in the short term, completely reduce their GHG emissions. Buying credits on the voluntary carbon market enables them to offset those emissions that, at this point, cannot be avoided. This does more than simply pay another entity to avoid polluting or remove emissions from the atmosphere. VCS projects also provide access to health services and education and other sustainable development benefits that improve the quality of life in project communities.
The voluntary carbon market is distinct from compliance markets, which are largely driven by government policies or legally binding agreements. In some compliance markets, entities can purchase and use carbon credits generated by carbon projects to comply with the respective regulations or requirements.
To feel confident that their purchase had the intended effect, many buyers select credits issued by Verra’s VCS Program. Verra’s diligence and transparency underpins the positive outcomes of carbon projects it certifies.
Carbon credit sellers, too, want markets with quality control guarantees, which help attract a solid pool of buyers, and the VCS Program ensures the quality and integrity of the projects it certifies.
Why the VCS?
The positive outcomes of carbon projects are underpinned by Verra’s diligence and transparency: buyers of credits issued by Verra’s VCS Program feel confident that their purchase had its intended effect; carbon credit sellers want markets with quality control guarantees, which help attract a solid pool of buyers.
The VCS Program has become the largest GHG crediting program in the world because of its rigorous rules and requirements; its adaptiveness to new scientific, technological, and regulatory developments; and the transparent information about its projects and their activities, which is publicly available on the Verra Registry.
These characteristics result in GHG emission reductions or removals that are real, measurable, additional, permanent, independently verified, conservatively estimated, uniquely numbered, and transparently listed (VCS Quality Assurance Principles).
Areas of focus
Blue carbon refers to carbon stored in the above and belowground biomass and rich soil pools of coastal and marine environments.
How it Works
Whether focusing on geologic carbon sequestration, forestry, agriculture, or another sector, projects developed in the VCS Program must undergo a rigorous assessment process. Once certified, these projects are eligible to be issued Verified Carbon Units (VCUs), with one VCU representing one metric ton of carbon dioxide reduced or removed from the atmosphere. Projects can sell these VCUs—through transactions to which Verra has no connection—and use the resulting finance to sustain or scape up their activities.
VCUs issued by projects that meet additional requirements can be tagged with a label that allow the associated VCU to be traded in certain markets. These labels can indicate a project’s compliance with non-VCS standards programs or that it is qualified to be traded in specific markets. Some of these labels pertain to other Verra standards, such as the Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) Standards, while others are external to Verra, such as the W+ Standard for projects that empower women.
The VCS Standard lays out the rules and requirements that projects must follow in order to be certified; in addition, the VCS Program includes three other essential components:
VCS Program projects are subject to independent auditing by both Verra staff and qualified third parties. This ensures that a project meets the standard’s rules and requirements; that its methodologies are properly applied; that it complies with local laws and regulations; and that no local stakeholders experience negative repercussions because of the project.
Accounting Methodologies set out detailed procedures and peer-reviewed emission reduction formulas for quantifying the GHG benefits of a project. Each methodology covers a specific set of activities for a distinct project type.
Finally, all information related to VCS projects is stored and publicly available in a Registry System. The Verra Registry also tracks the generation and retirement of all VCUs.
In addition to this system of checks and balances, each VCS Program project undergoes a public comment period during which anyone can indicate whether they believe the project meets VCS Program standards. These comments enter the Verra Registry and must be considered by the project leads.
Starting a VCS Project: What to Expect
Looking to develop a project using the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)? This section outlines important information you should know before you begin.
1. Before You Begin
Before beginning to develop a project in the VCS Program, familiarize yourself with the process and requirements.
- Ensure that your project complies with the VCS rules and requirements laid out in the VCS Standard.
- Check if your planned project activities are eligible in the VCS Program. Review Table 1 in the VCS Standard for non-Agricultural, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) projects and Appendix 1 for AFOLU projects.
The key steps of project development are:
- Pipeline listing based on a draft project description document
- Validation by a third-party auditor (validation and verification body (VVB) who approves the final project description of the project. Upon completion this results in successful project registration
- Verification by the VVB against the projects monitoring plan confirms the emission reductions and removals the project has achieved.
Once verification has been completed and approved by Verra, a project proponent can request the issuance of credits.
For more detailed guidance on this process and additional details (opening a registry account etc.) please refer to the Registration and Issuance Process document.
Project developers are responsible for finding a suitable methodology for calculating the project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If there is no suitable Verra or Clean Development Mechanism methodology, it may be necessary to develop a new one.
Project developers also contract the VVBs directly.
All projects undergo a 30-day public comment period during pipeline listing. Comments received during this time must be addressed by the project developer.
Please note that Verra staff cannot assist you with the development of a project. We can only respond to questions related to our rules and requirements.
2. Fees and Finances
VCS project development costs vary from project to project. They fall into three categories:
- Verra fees as outlined in Section 2 of the VCS Program Fee Schedule.
- Project development fees include project development and operations, monitoring, and consultants fees.
- Auditing fees payable directly to the VVB.
As a standard-setting body, Verra does not track external costs (those associated with project development or auditing).
There are two timelines project proponents need to be aware of before starting to develop a VCS project: 1) the timeline for project registration, and 2) the timeline for VCU issuance.
1. Timeline for Project Registration
After a project proponent submits the draft project description, a project undergoes a 30-day public comment period.
After this, the project goes through validation during which a validation/verification body (VVB) reviews the project description and the comments received during the public comment period.
The length of the validation process varies from project to project. It can take up to a year and or longer (in rare cases).
After a successful validation, the project proponent requests project registration with Verra as outlined in the Registration and Issuance Process document.
2. Timeline for VCU Issuance
Before a project can be issued VCUs, the following steps need to be completed:
- Project activities need to be implemented and the GHG reductions and removals need to be monitored;
- A validation/verification body (VVB) needs to verify the emission reductions and removals the project achieved;
- Verra needs to approve the verification.
Upon successful verification, the project can request VCU issuance. The exact timeline for this process varies from project to project.
4. Next Steps
Once a project has been registered and issued VCUs, the project proponent can sell these credits on the open market, typically the voluntary market and occasionally in a compliance market. If an entity uses VCUs to offset part of its carbon footprint, these units will be “retired”, i.e., they will be taken out of circulation so they can only be used for such a purpose once.
As a mission-driven, non-profit standard-setter Verra maintains an impartial position in the marketplace and does not buy, sell, or trade in carbon credits. Any negotiations and purchase agreements between the project developers and the buyers are established outside Verra Registry. Verra only retires credits per the instruction of the project proponent.
- International Emissions Trading Association (IETA): List of brokers and traders
- Market data and intelligence: Carbon Pulse, Ecosystem Marketplace, Trove, Quantum Commodity Intelligence
(This list does not represent an endorsement by Verra.)
VCS at a glance
Tonnes of Greenhouse Gas removed
Climate action projects around the world
Countries using our standards in projects