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Originally published by South Pole

Author: René Groot Bruinderink Regional Director, Commercial & Delivery – UK & Netherlands, South Pole

“Don’t fool yourself: billions more needed to protect tropical forests”, warns a Guardian headline.

Similarly, a recent We Mean Business study revealed that a $4.1 trillion finance gap for nature-based solutions must be bridged to achieve global climate goals. And on Earth Day, millions echoed the rallying cry: #InvestInOurPlanet.

Yet, 93% of companies are neither compensating nor reducing their climate impact: in other words, they are doing nothing to address climate change.

This needs to change.

Climate action requires integrity, innovation, and, most importantly, financing. This raises two questions: firstly, what mechanisms do we have for companies to fund climate action, especially in the window until 2030? And secondly, how can we ensure that the finance is producing the promised impact?

Catalysing climate solutions with the Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM)

The VCM provides an effective means for companies to finance activities at a scale that drives the global transition to net zero emissions. And the potential is huge.

If 1,700 high-emitting companies invested just 10% of their emissions in nature-based projects, over $1 trillion could be mobilised by 2030. This finance can support local communities, landowners and NGOs to overcome one of the biggest challenges that they face: securing access to funding.

Why carbon markets you might be thinking to yourself? It’s not the only solution, but investments in land-based solutions are tricky, as they typically involve small and aggregated deals, currency risks and complex ownership structures. Carbon markets, however, treat communities, farmers and land-owners as business partners – as opposed to making a direct investment with an expected financial ROI. Importantly, carbon finance – via the purchase of certified credits traded on carbon markets – is payments for results: it provides a results-based way to finance the implementation of transformative practices that don’t necessarily yield large financial returns, but that lead to measurable positive environmental and social impacts.

Over the next seven years, the VCM could grow by 13X and reduce and remove up to 2.6 GT of GHG emissions. That would account for up to 5% of today’s global emissions.

Promoting effective and transparent use of carbon credits

For genuine climate impact, companies must adhere to simple, high-level principles. South Pole published their Principles for Carbon Credit Use to support the many companies that want to invest in the planet, and in financing the global transition – but who don’t know how to do it in a credible way.

  1. Set a science-aligned net zero target.
  2. Pay for all unavoidable GHG emissions today and on the pathway to net zero.
  3. Use high quality carbon credits.
  4. Companies should transparently communicate their use of carbon credits.

Delivering high-integrity climate solutions

The VCM ecosystem is made up of many different actors, such as project developers, project owners, landowners and independent auditors; industry bodies like the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA); and architecture, including certification standards and methodologies. While the VCM is not regulated, these actors underpin the market, create standardisation, uphold and continuously update robust principles, and ensure real and measurable impacts from projects operating within the VCM.

On top of purchasing projects from internationally-recognised certification standards, another hallmark of quality are the co-benefits a project delivers. Simply put, co-benefits are the impacts beyond carbon, for example boosting food security, protecting biodiversity, and helping create new sustainable livelihoods. They can also support women with becoming more independent and improve their access to basic services, like water, education and healthcare.

Both Verra and the Gold Standard, leading certification bodies in the voluntary carbon market, have designed much-needed tools and even new standards to measure and certify co-benefits in a more standardised way. Although there is still a way to go in terms of monitoring co-benefits, choosing projects with strong impacts beyond carbon ensures a company is contributing to enhancing local standards of living in the host country and therefore a just transition to net zero where no one is left behind.

Upholding integrity

Integrity demands meeting high-quality standards in carbon accounting, additionality, social safeguards, project activities, and co-benefits. Standards and methodologies set ever-improving performance standards for the green revolution and provide infrastructure for the market. They are by design nimble and ready to adapt proactively and reactively as new technologies and learnings come into play. It is key that actors advocate for globally accepted, harmonised benchmarking methods, particularly for sensitive scopes like Nature-Based Solutions (NBS).

South Pole has talked extensively about both the complexity as well as the urgent need for REDD+ projects (here & here), which play a critical role in protecting forests, preserving biodiversity and securing irrecoverable carbon to deliver rapid emissions reductions at scale. The VCM architecture integrates baseline updates, technological advancements, and new learnings to evolve in tandem with best practices. This evolution is pushing the envelope of best-practice and it calls for companies to keep directing finance to communities at the forest frontier through the REDD+ mechanism; we can’t let perfection be the enemy of good.

“Each and every project goes through a public comment period for around 30 days, where anyone – regardless whether they are involved in the project or not – can comment. This amount of transparency and stakeholder inclusion is not there in many, if not any, other forms of climate finance” —Chetan Aggarwal, Manager Sustainable Standards and Methodologies, South Pole.

Fostering innovation for a sustainable future

For over 17 years, South Pole has pioneered and scaled various approaches to achieve true climate impact at scale. Some initiatives have offered valuable lessons, while others have led to significant carbon emission reductions and benefits for vulnerable communities. One recent achievement is the NextGen CDR Facility (NextGen), a joint venture between South Pole and Mitsubishi Corporation. It purchased close to 200K tonnes of CDRs from three projects, including the world’s largest technological carbon removal project, demonstrating tangible corporate interest for various CDR technologies that offer long term removal of CO2. These actions are helping to push CDRs over the vital tipping point for them to become readily available at affordable prices.


As global crises intensify and climate change exacerbates the situation, urgent action is needed to reduce global emissions and revolutionise how we can do business within our planet’s limits. Today, more than ever, we are under tremendous pressure to unlock trillions to help businesses, communities, and governments transition to a safe, sustainable future. The VCM is one of the few means for businesses to take responsibility for their impact while they decarbonise, especially in the crucial years we have left until 2030.

Market mechanisms have tangibly demonstrated that they can be part of the solution to financing critical new climate technologies, recognising the value of ecosystem services, and putting a price on emissions. Used effectively, the VCM can deliver finance at scale that helps to move the dial on runaway climate change and ensure tangible, measurable benefits for the people and communities most at risk from climate crisis.