American Carbon Registry Hopes to Lead the Carbon Gold Rush

In addition to receiving an infusion of cash through its merger with Winrock International, the Environmental Resources Trust’s Greenhouse Gas Registry also got a name change: It is now the American Carbon Registry. But the folks with the money at Winrock are doing more than just thinking about what the world’s first carbon registry should be called; they have helped the registry compile the detailed new guidance documents it’s rolling out today.

According to American Carbon Registry Founder and Nobel Prize winner Wiley Barbour, the hope is that this will position the registry for success when the federal government institutes national cap-and-trade legislation for carbon. Barbour says private registries with a history of quality offsets and a transparent registration process based on solid guidelines may be able to get offsets through the federal compliance process more quickly. A federal system could create a huge market — in the range of hundreds of millions — for quality offsets, according to Barbour.

In the meantime, registries are contending with state and voluntary markets. Barbour notes that state carbon initiatives could follow in the footsteps of other pollution policies and spur both the federal government and private companies to embrace a federal cap-and trade policy. But he also sees the voluntary market as part of what is lowering the bar in the carbon world. “When you look at the voluntary market, the majority of what trades or sells as offsets is, in my mind, at the low-end of the quality scale,” Barbour says. “It hasn’t been third-party verified, its ownership is not clear, and it’s not registered.”

For that reason, Barbour says he welcomes the “gold rush”-like surge in private registries, many of which have joined American Carbon Registry in the Quality Carbon Offset Initiative, a nonprofit partnership lobbying for effective greenhouse gas policy. Partners in the initiative include Portland’s Climate Trust, the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, the Climate Group, and the Climate Registry.

“We all abide by the same principals despite the fact that we’re competitors — we want transparency, we want quality, verified offsets, and we want them to be registered,” Barbour says. “What I’m more worried about is groups that are coming at this and advocating lowering the bar for offsets.”

When asked what groups he was concerned about, Barbour says “I think if you Googled about carbon offset scandals you’d find Chicago Climate Exchange in your list of search results.” Indeed, he’s right. One scandal was kicked off when the House of Representatives bought offsets and it became clear CCX offsets weren’t actually promoting greenhouse gas emission reductions. “For this to work, to truly become the global solution we need, there has to be some there there,” Barbour says. “There has to be something more than would have happened without the incentive.”

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