Date of Graduation

Spring 5-19-2023

Document Access

Restricted Project/Capstone - USF access only

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Jalel Sager


In 85% of the scenarios where we limit global temperature increase to 2C, roughly 300 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) must be permanently removed from the atmosphere (Hilaire et al., 2019). The Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM), home to carbon offset projects and credits created via CO2e removal and avoidance mechanisms, is an unregulated market projected to grow 300 fold by 2030 due to the private sector’s needs for carbon offset credits to meet emissions goals (Kotsialou et al., 2022). These carbon offset credits issued by individual certification entities have come under scrutiny and criticism due to a lack of transparency, trust, and legitimacy (Kreibich and Hermwille, 2021). Additionally, concerns have been raised about the environmental and social impacts of carbon offset projects due to instances of proven climate injustices occurring at project locations. This paper analyzes the top two certification and credit issuance standards in use on the VCM today, Verra and Gold Standard, to understand if they adequately address the risks and concerns found in the literature. A literature review was conducted to identify the common risks and concerns and categorize them into ‘general’ and ‘climate justice’ groups. A comparative analysis was then conducted for both certification entities against five generalized risk/concern categories and four climate justice categories. While both standards received adequate remarks in the majority of risk/concern categories, it was also determined that below-adequate and inadequate rankings were seen in several categories by both entities. Recommendations are made for certification entities across the entire VCM to require mandatory reporting and enforcement in several of the discovered risk categories. Additionally, it is recommended to establish and create a centralized carbon offset dashboard to include baseline determination requirements, annual public progress report publishing and leakage monitoring to address trust and transparency concerns. Lastly, a recommendation to address climate justice in the form of requiring certifying entities incorporate at least six of the 17 UN’s SDGs to ensure climate justice is addressed as the VCM continues to scale.

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