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Carbon markets: pioneering the path to climate action in 2024

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By Yariv Cohen

· 5 min read

Over the past three years, carbon markets have faced significant challenges. Once lauded as a cornerstone of corporate climate action, voluntary carbon markets experienced a crisis of confidence, resulting in a marked downturn in both price and demand. Factors contributing to this decline included the increasing complexity of market mechanisms, skepticism regarding project effectiveness, and concerns about greenwashing. Major companies such as Shell, Nestlé, and EasyJet withdrew from previous carbon plans, leading to a rapid price drop, which plummeted by over 80% between October 2020 and January 2023 (Carbon Credits data).

However, carbon credits are now witnessing a remarkable resurgence. In environmental conservation, 2024 heralds a noteworthy revival of carbon markets, symbolizing the world's heightened commitment to combating climate change. This resurgence represents a recovery and a renaissance marked by transformative shifts across various aspects.

Building trust

At COP28, promising developments in carbon markets emerged, with significant registries like Verra and Gold Standard aligning on carbon accounting principles. Simultaneously, independent bodies such as the Science Based Targets Initiative, Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI), and CDP committed to establishing a unified carbon project quality standard from development through retirement. These initiatives simplify market navigation, empowering buyers to purchase and retire credits confidently.

Central to this endeavor is bolstering carbon market integrity to maintain credibility and effectiveness. Initiatives geared towards enhancing market integrity have flourished, engendering trust among stakeholders. The recent extension of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to cover maritime transport exemplifies this dedication. The scheme has grown its reach by bringing shipowners operating vessels exceeding 5,000 gross tonnage under the ETS umbrella, reinforcing its regulatory strength and signaling a commitment to robust carbon market governance. Just a few weeks ago, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) signed a cooperation agreement with the VCMI to boost developing countries' participation in carbon markets, facilitating the development of ethical and equitable carbon finance flows within countries, regions, and organizations by scaling up public and private capacities to engage in high-integrity carbon markets.

Another crucial factor for establishing trust in the market is collaboration, emerging as a potent force driving progress. Industry initiatives and trade associations are at the vanguard, fostering the exchange of best practices and the harmonization of standards. This collaborative ethos engenders cohesion and bolsters the market's resilience and adaptability. When buyers and traders share the same standards and rules, the global market becomes more synchronized, easier to manage, and more trustworthy.

An unprecedented rise

Financial investments are pouring into the carbon market at an unmatched scale, with a staggering $851 billion worth of carbon dioxide permits traded globally last year. This robust financial influx underscores burgeoning confidence in the market's growth trajectory and its pivotal role in fostering sustainable development. Zeroing in, the voluntary carbon market experiences an unprecedented surge, with a turnover of $1 billion recorded last November. This surge is propelled by an increasing number of companies embracing carbon neutrality goals, thereby amplifying the market's reach and impact.

With every passing year, commitments to lower emissions and foster sustainable living grow across geographies and sectors, making carbon credits an undeniable necessity, presenting a bridge for abating emissions in the decades it may take to develop technologies to complete the energy transition.

Regulation is key

Like any new market, regulation is vital to establishing long-lasting trust and impact. The global regulatory landscape is undergoing significant shifts, with critical regulatory measures including stricter emissions caps, enhanced monitoring and reporting requirements, and implementing carbon pricing mechanisms such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems. Additionally, there's a growing emphasis on transparency and accountability to ensure the integrity of carbon offset projects. These regulatory advancements signify a collective commitment to mitigating carbon emissions and transitioning towards a low-carbon economy, reflecting a pivotal moment in global climate governance.

Some interesting regulatory shifts occurred during the past year. The EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) mandated stringent compliance measures for shipping companies while extending its scope to include aviation emissions, broadening the carbon allowances market, and intensifying efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from air travel. Similarly, jurisdictions such as Canada and South Korea increased their carbon pricing rates to incentivize more significant emission reductions across industries.

Recognizing the importance of transparency and credibility in carbon offsetting, regulatory bodies worldwide introduced enhanced reporting and verification standards, aiming to ensure the accuracy and integrity of carbon offset projects, thereby increasing investor confidence and driving greater participation in carbon markets. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced stricter guidelines for verifying carbon offset projects under its Clean Air Act provisions, emphasizing rigorous monitoring and verification processes to prevent fraud and ensure the legitimacy of emission reductions. Similarly, international bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) implemented enhanced reporting requirements for airlines participating in carbon offsetting programs, promoting consistency and accountability in global efforts to mitigate aviation emissions. These regulatory advancements signify a collective commitment to mitigating carbon emissions and transitioning towards a low-carbon economy, reflecting a pivotal moment in global climate governance.

As 2024 unfolds, the carbon market assumes an unprecedented significance within the global climate action agenda. Fueled by enhanced integrity, regulatory support, and substantial financial backing, carbon markets stand poised to spearhead a transformative paradigm shift toward a more sustainable and resilient future.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Yariv Cohen is the co-founder and CEO of Ignite Power, a company providing solar-based, life-enabling, distributed solutions across Africa. Yariv has been a part of the renewable energy sphere for the past two decades, scaling innovation globally to help build a sustainable, inclusive future.

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