Amazon is testing out its new carbon credit label called ABACUS Verified Carbon Unit (VCU), which goes above and beyond Verra’s methodology and will focus on ensuring additionality, leakage, and durability standards in the market.
Trust has been at the center when dealing with the issues confronting the carbon market. Some buyers of carbon credits are afraid that they will not receive the emissions reduction those credits promise.
Same with other products, there are good and bad carbon credits. The good ones are from projects that result in actual and real removal or avoidance of carbon. The bad ones don’t deliver real and positive impacts.
The challenge for both buyers and sellers is to spot the difference. And this is what the new carbon credit label of Amazon will try to address.
Amazon ABACUS Verified Carbon Unit (VCU)
In partnership with Verra, Amazon unveiled their plan to create a label that they claim to bring a higher standard of producing carbon credits back in July.
The carbon credits the system will generate will satisfy additional standards already required from traditional VCUs. Verra said that ABACUS is the first VCU label that came from a 3rd-party working group.
- That group comprises Amazon research scientists and experts at the University of California Berkeley, The Nature Conservancy, and other organizations.
Amazon’s inspiration for creating the ABACUS VCU label is to improve public trust in the environmental integrity of carbon credits. This is critical for the voluntary carbon market to grow.
The architect behind the new carbon credit label, Jamey Mulligan, gave a sneak peek of the Amazon ABACUS VCU. He said:
“It is the first carbon market label that reflects innovations in the carbon accounting itself. [We are] creating an incentive for project developers to road test new project design concepts and carbon quantification methodologies that, at the end of the day, are built to enable confidence that the credits represent what they claim.”
The new carbon credit label will focus on two project types – agroforestry and reforestation. That’s because additionality, leakage, and durability are hard to deal with in those areas. But the projects also have great potential for significant climate, social, and environmental benefits.
Mulligan noted that ABACUS will improve the story for each of those standards. And to qualify for that label, VCUs must come from projects verified by Verra’s afforestation, reforestation, and revegetation (ARR) methodology.
How ABACUS Differs From Traditional Carbon Credits
One way that ABACUS VCUs are different from the existing credits available on the market is how they account for additionality. The label will require project developers to consider additionality at the start of the project.
Rather, they have to track changes in the project’s carbon stock over its lifetime while comparing it continuously to a baseline. This practice uses what they call a dynamic baseline to evaluate additionality.
In Mulligan’s words,
“Essentially, projects have to outcompete matched control plots in the surrounding landscape to maintain additionality. This effectively transfers the risk of future non-additionality, from the atmosphere to where it is today, to project investors, where we think it belongs.”
Another way that Amazon hopes ABACUS VCU will improve the credit standard is on leakage. It happens a lot when agriculture results in indirect land use change and loss of carbon.
ABACUS will prevent that leakage by supporting projects that make the rest of the degraded land or its nearby region equally productive. This will help maintain the agricultural production rate of that location.
The new label believes that carbon removal projects must not come at the expense of food production but must be engines of food security.
Lastly, climate solutions through nature have struggled to prove their durability or permanence. This is why buffer pools are created to cover for their potential losses due to wildfire or harvests.
ABACUS crediting will still use the same approach of pooled buffer accounts. But they will be from projects with high quality. And that tree species are better adapted to the project area.
- Still on durability, the new scheme will cut down the crediting period from the standard 50 years to only 30.
Ridding of the last 20 years will have little impact on the investors’ financial outlook at the time of investment, said Mulligan. This, in fact, creates unaccredited removals that can compensate for partial losses, acting as another buffer pool.
Testing and Refining ABACUS
Though such changes in carbon crediting scheme sound promising, they need polishing. Amazon and Verra will work together to test and refine the ABACUS VCU label.
Verra completed a pre-consultation last October but ABACUS still needs testing on the ground with real and pilot carbon projects.
Plus, both organizations have to do a lot of work to ensure the success of ABACUS. And the key to that is trust and cultivating it on both sides, according to Mulligan.
A final decision on the proposed label will be due in January 2023.