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Despite setbacks, voluntary carbon markets booming

By Karimeh Moukaddem,

June 06, 2011

The voluntary carbon market posted a 34 percent gain in 2010, trading a record 131 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtC02e). While the US accounted for the majority of trading activity, worth $424 million in total, market growth was strongest in developing countries.

The news comes from Back to the Future: State and Trends of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2010, an annual report by Ecosystem Marketplace and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Gathering data from almost 300 market participants, the report analyzes the voluntary carbon market’s organization and growth, as well as project types and buyer motivations.

The US remained the primary participant in voluntary carbon markets in 2010, offering more than one-third of carbon credits and purchasing nearly half of available credits. This is positive news for the US given that last year proved difficult for market participants: failure of the US federal government to act on climate change again contributed to the closure of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) and smaller US markets. However, regional markets in California and the Western Climate Initiative withstood the pressure and gathered support from many US suppliers.

According to the report, the voluntary carbon market seems to be recovering from the economic downturn, and may even emerge stronger as a result of increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility.

"This is a return of sorts to the voluntary market’s roots and away from the pre-compliance buying that had been dominant of late as companies prepared for legislation that never came," explained Katherine Hamilton, the managing director of Ecosystem Marketplace.

The data shows that new buyers to the carbon market made investments in older, more stable areas such as renewable energy and offsets with a sustainable-development focus. But for experienced buyers, offsetting carbon through forest projects held the most promise.

REDD, a relatively new mechanism for trade in carbon that stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, accounted for 29 percent of documented emissions reductions in 2010. The innovative program aims to save and preserve endangered rainforest ecosystems along with their sequestered carbon, a proposal greatly strengthened by methodology guidance by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). VCS advice is responsible for a third of all credits traded in 2010. The growing strength of REDD in voluntary carbon markets provided a boon of opportunity to developing countries, particularly in Latin America, where offered credits doubled.

The number of project developers and buyers based in Asia, Latin America, and Africa more than doubled, reflecting shifting market dynamics directing investment to the developing world and the continual refinement of voluntary carbon market mechanisms.

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