Voluntary Emission Reductions (VERs)

The leaders in Voluntary Emission Reductions (VERs) are the U.S. — obviously, since they have not accepted any legally binding targets and timetables domestically or internationally binding commitments to reduce Greenhouse Gases under the Kyoto Protocol.

Most of these voluntary policies and measures do not create tradable permits. This does not mean that nothing is happening in the U.S. In 2005, Seattle City Light became the nation's first major utility to cut its net Greenhouse Gas emissions to zero.

On the other hand some groups and companies in the U.S. are trading VERs. In 1997 a law in Oregon required new power plants to offset part of their CO2 emissions. A new regulated carbon market in Oregon meant that the Climate Trust could issue Requests for Proposals for projects wishing to sell VERs to offset the emissions from the Oregon power stations. In May 2006 the Climate Trust announced the first U.S. sale of VERs to Europe.

Other smaller entities sell emissions reductions to offset activities which are not counted under the Kyoto Protocol, for example emissions from air travel. Many recent initiatives for example, offset emissions from conference venues, air travel, local transportation, hotel accommodation and such like. The venue organisers can then claim that their event is "carbon neutral."

Offsetting emissions may be an option to compensate for activities where emissions are difficult to reduce directly, for example due to an unwillingness on the part of the people involved to change their lifestyle: for example emissions caused by travel, etc. Even if people were willing to change their lifestyles, these activities do not lend themselves easily to being captured with an acceptable emission reduction calculation methodology, though if enough people change their lifestyle this will reflect in the national GHG emission reductions.

Interestingly some methodology development is going on for an approved methodology for calculating emission reductions from changes in lifestyle under CDM, but the EB has not yet approved a methodology.

VER initiatives thus come from lots of different sectors for lots of different reasons. For example forestry conservation supporters may still want to calculate the net GHG removals by sinks associated with their conservation project, but they cannot claim the credit under CDM. So they look for interested parties who want to buy the VERs, just so that the project can go ahead. The buyer would not necessarily get any monetary benefit out of giving this support. But that is nonetheless an excellent support for the project. And the benefit to the climate is just as real.

The Bagepalli CDM Reforestation Programme, for example, is seeking validation under Climate & Community Biodiversity (CCB). This is a U.S. standard which shows that the project is doing something more than just offsetting the emissions for an Annex I country. It also provides huge benefits to the local people, conserves biodiversity, and restores eco-system services in a region where the soil is very degraded. Though the project will generate Certified Emission Reductions under the CDM, it will also be conforming to some voluntary standards which will make the credits attractive to buyers who want something more than just CERs.