Verra's president Judith Simon has stepped up to take the helm at a challenging time for the voluntary carbon market – but she has ambitious plans for the market's leading registry and standard-setter.
Environmental Finance: Verra has, once again, been voted Best Registry Provider and Best GHG Crediting Programme in the Voluntary Carbon Market Rankings, but it's a time of transition for the organisation – not least with your appointment, in May, as interim CEO. What are your plans for Verra?
Judith Simon: This recent change in leadership has given us the opportunity to pull up and think about where we're going as an organisation, and what the marketplace needs from us. We've been taking stock and listening to the collective perspective of some of the key players in the market.
Over the last six weeks, I've met with roughly 35 organisations on all sides of the carbon market to understand how Verra can improve and build on their strengths. What we've learned, and how it's crystallising our vision for going forward, falls into three buckets.
The first bucket is about operational excellence. We need to be easier to work with. We need to streamline our processes, be more service-orientated, and answer questions more quickly. We also need to digitise everything, leveraging technology and data to enable scale.
The second bucket is around impact and integrity in our programmes and methodologies. We need to continue demonstrating our commitment to continuous improvement by regularly updating our processes and methodologies, and we need to employ better change management in doing so. We need to be clearer on timelines, on how we're transitioning methodologies, and give our stakeholders more visibility into that ongoing process.
The third bucket is around accountability: to our stakeholders, to the market, and to the planet. We must more consistently engage with our stakeholders, be more proactive in our communications, and engage with governments to become the carbon standard for voluntary and compliance purposes. It's about accepting our leadership role in the marketplace. Our mantra is that we all must work together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future.
EF: Verra has been accused of over-crediting REDD projects, with allegations that you have strongly contested, but which have nonetheless been widely repeated in the media. How can Verra effectively defend the rigour of its processes?
JS: When REDD was first launched, it was revolutionary. It was the beginning of a way to use a market mechanism to enable finance to protect forests and biodiversity. It has been a game changer. But we know a lot more now than we did then, and there will always be cycles of learning.
Verra's current REDD methodologies were based on the best available science at the time and developed with multiple iterations of expert consultation, review and auditing. But we know that nothing is perfect, and we are committed to continuous improvement.
We take these claims seriously. As such, we're making a significant investment in an independent research initiative, a landmark measure to shape the direction of the voluntary carbon market and assess its climate, biodiversity and social impacts. This initiative will bring together respected and independent experts across regions and sectors to collaborate on a suite of research projects adding data, analysis, and perspectives to ongoing discussions in this critical climate action space.
REDD projects can protect forests against intense deforestation pressures. We believe these projects have resulted in substantial greenhouse gas emission reductions while generating compelling biodiversity and local community benefits. We look forward to forming a productive research collaborative to advance dialogue in this area.
EF: Verra's Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) methodologies are subject to ongoing review, to ensure they remain rigorous and deliver additionality, etc. What are the latest updates you've been working on?
JS: The REDD methodology is the latest example of how we're committed to continual improvement. Our new methodology for avoiding unplanned deforestation (AUD) is nearly complete and will be released before COP 28. It takes a top-down approach to baseline setting, ensuring that all activities in a jurisdiction 'add up', removing the potential for conflicts of interest, and better aligning with national REDD+ programmes. The consolidated methodology, which will incorporate five separate methodologies for AUD, is now under the second round of review by an independent auditor.
More broadly, we're relaunching our VCS advisory group with an updated group of independent expert advisors. This new group will be looking at the VCS programme in the round, with a cross-section of different stakeholders involved with that. In addition, we're introducing a new timeline and management process for how methodologies should be updated; that will hopefully reduce the uncertainty created when we undertake these updates.
EF: Finally, Trove just published some research on flows of investment into the voluntary carbon market which suggests that the market is poised for substantial growth. How does Verra plan to respond?
JS: There is tremendous growth coming into the voluntary carbon market. And that means Verra needs to be prepared to manage that growth and scale rapidly. We want to ensure high-integrity projects while not being a bottleneck. As well as ensuring that the instruments we certify deliver impact against high-quality standards, we are embarking on a multi-year technology roadmap. It will transform manual processes into digital ones, which will not only streamline and simplify them, but also ensure quality and enable us to better connect with the larger ecosystem. I think it's going to have a multiplier effect. That's the goal.
We also need to improve how we connect with our partners. In Q4, we're going to establish a new stakeholder service team. There are a lot of new entrants in the marketplace, and they have a lot of questions. Even for those who have been around for longer, things are changing so quickly. In that context, we can be hard to work with in terms of getting questions answered in a timely fashion. Our new team will help us foster stronger relationships, and better share insights back to leadership about stakeholder concerns and needs.
For more information, see: verra.org