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By Janice McMahon

As the voluntary greenhouse gas (GHG) emission removal markets have developed in the United States over the last few years, the process for independent, third party verifications has also developed. Historically, the lack of regulatory oversight and control allowed for significant fraud in the voluntary carbon market; however, in most instances the verification process has been able to address the concerns about fraud, while providing project validity and credit assurances that did not exist previously. Multiple trading platforms and certification systems have developed GHG reduction (offsets) protocols that require independent, third-party verifications. Some of these platforms include the Chicago Climate Exchange, the Voluntary Carbon Standard, the Climate Action Reserve and the American Carbon Registry.

In our previous verification article [Basics of Verification for Carbon Sequestration (Offset) Projects], we provided the general reasons for project verifications and a topical outline of steps necessary. This article will take the verification process a step further by describing the key elements necessary for a successful third-party verification of a GHG offset project.

The Key Elements and Guidance Sandards for GHG Verifications

The key elements and guidance standards for GHG verifications are provided for in the International Standards ISO 14064-3 (Greenhouse Gases-Specification with Guidance for the Validation and Verification of Greenhouse Gas Assertions) and ISO 14065 (Greenhouse Gases – Requirements for Greenhouse Gas Validation and Verification Bodies for use in accreditation or Other Forms of Recognition) produced by the International Organization for Standardization.

By definition, “verification is the systematic, independent, and documented process for the evaluation of a greenhouse gas assertion against agreed verification criteria” (ISO 14064-3:2006E). Even though GHG reduction project verifications can be different for each project type, the following elements/steps are common to all project verifications:

Common Steps in all Greenhouse Gas Project Verifications

  1. Conduct Conflict of Interest Procedures
    In order to maintain creditability, transparency, impartiality and independence for the verification process, it is important that the verifying entity and GHG Program have a conflict of interest procedure that must be followed prior to engagement of verification work with a project developer. A conflict of interest procedure should ensure that verification activities and decisions are based upon objective evidence obtained through science and the appropriate verification process, with safeguards to prevent inappropriate influence by other interests.
  2. Define the Verification Scope, Criteria, Level of Assurance, Objective and Materiality
    1. Verification Scope typically includes the GHG project and baseline scenarios; physical infrastructure, activities, technologies and processes of the GHG project; GHG sources, sinks and/or reservoirs; types of GHG; and time periods covered within the project.
    2. Verification Criteria is the specified GHG Program/Platform/Protocol that the project prepared for and verified against. For example, VCS protocol criteria.
    3. Level of Assurance is used to determine the depth of detail that the verifier places in the verification plan to determine if there are any errors, omissions, or misrepresentations (ISO 14064-3:2006). For the majority of verifications, a reasonable level of assurance is required that, based on the process and procedures conducted, the GHG assertion is materially correct and is a fair representation of the GHG data and information, and is prepared in accordance with the GHG Program standard on GHG quantification, monitoring and reporting.
    4. Verification Objective is to perform the third-party verification in compliance with the verification criteria that will assess the GHG emission removals through, for example, a managed forest carbon sequestration project as described by the project developer. It is also an assessment of the likelihood that implementation of the planned GHG project will result in the GHG emission removal enhancements as stated by the project developer (ISO 14064-3:2006).
    5. Materiality is a concept that errors, omissions and misrepresentations could affect the GHG reduction assertion and influence the intended users (ISO 14064-3:2006). The objective of the verification is to enable the verification body to express an opinion on whether the project proponent’s GHG assertion is prepared, in all material respects, in accordance with the GHG program rules. The assessment of what is material is a matter of professional judgment. A discrepancy or combination of discrepancies, in a GHG assertion is considered to be material if it is probable that the decision by the GHG Program to accept or reject the report would be changed or influenced by the discrepancies. In most instances the materiality threshold is defined by the GHG Program.
  3. Request Records and Documents from Project Developer
    Once the project details are defined and agreed upon by the independent, third-party verifier and the project developer, the verifier will request all relevant project information including, but not limited to, the project design document, GHG assertions and calculations, ownership documentation, technology descriptions, and long-term monitoring plans.
  4. Initial Review of Project Documentation
    After the verifier receives the requested project documentation, they will assess and review the information and perform a gap analysis to decide what information is missing and to ensure that the documentation is in the required GHG Program eligibility format.
  5. Prepare Verification and Sampling Plan
    Following the initial review of the project documentation, the verifier prepares a verification and sampling plan that outlines the verification process specific to the project. The plan prepared by the verifier should include at a minimum the following elements: description of verification team, project years and location, verification activity outline including timeframes, re-statement of the five elements discussed in #2 above, verification sampling method, results of gap analysis, risks for potential errors and omissions, and a revised list of documentation still needed.
  6. Conduct the field and Desktop Review (verification)
    Once the verification and sampling plan is agreed upon by both the verifier and project developer, the actual verification can begin. The type of verification (field, desktop or both) is dependent upon the project history. Typically projects are intensely reviewed at the inception, with both field inspections and detailed document review (desktop) performed. Subsequent verifications may occur as frequently as annually, and are typically just a desktop review to confirm continued compliance with the GHG Program and to identify any changes to the project overtime. It is important to note that each GHG Program defines their requirements for verification frequency.
  7. Address non-conformities
    After the verification activities are conducted by the verifier, the verifier prepares a list of findings, which includes, if applicable, the project’s non-conformities to the GHG Program and GHG assertions made by the project developer. In most cases, the project developer is given the time to address all non-conformities and provide the verifier with additional documentation, explanation and clarifications for the verifier to re-review.
  8. Prepare Verification Statement (opinion) and report
    At the end of the verification, the verifier will prepare a formal verification statement and report for the specific GHG emission removal project. The verification opinion is the statement stating whether or not the evidence collected in the assessment of controls, GHG data and information, and applicable GHG Program criteria, is sufficient and if it supports the project’s GHG assertion. After the verification statement is prepared, the verifier will also prepare a full verification report that details the whole verification process.
  9. Review and Acceptance by GHG Program
    In typical situations, the project developer is given the opportunity to review the verification statement and report prepared by the verifier. After the review by the project developer, verification information is provided to the specific GHG Program. After this point, each GHG Program has a separate and unique internal review process for the acceptance of the verification statement and report and for the issuance of project credits.

Although we have summarized the general verification process in nine basic steps, the process is very detailed and has many nuances that are specific to the type of GHG emission removal project and GHG Program which this article is too brief to address. It is important to note that a successful project verification is the key to a successful project and acceptance of that project into a GHG Program.

For additional information on GHG reduction project verifications, please contact Environmental Services by subscribing to our sustainable website or emailing Janice McMahon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the author:
Janice McMahon is the Forest Management/Sustainable Services Division Director for Environmental Services, Inc where she specializes in natural resource management projects including carbon sequestration projects, development/implementation of management plans for enhancement of carbon stocks, development of carbon and environmental asset tracking programs, and prescribed fire management plans for use in restoring ecosystems. She is responsible for managing carbon development projects under multiple protocols, exchanges, and registries and is currently working on projects in the United States, Central America, South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Ms. McMahon routinely leads lectures and seminars throughout the United States and internationally regarding the carbon markets and associated opportunities. Ms. McMahon has a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology & Conservation from the University of Florida and a M.S. in Forestry and Wildlife Science from Auburn University.