Greenhouse Gas Standards

Greenhouse gases (GHG) are a group of gases that, when in the atmosphere, reflect sunlight back towards the planet, heating it up as a result. Carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone are the primary gases that carry this property, varying drastically from gas to gas with respect to the magnitude of their contribution and its duration. Cumulatively, this process, known as the greenhouse effect, plays a major role in determining the surface temperature of Earth.

As a result of concerns raised over the magnitude and significance of the human role in atmospheric GHG levels, GHG reduction efforts have blossomed, ranging in scale from personal initiatives to international laws and agreements that operate on a truly global level. In the past, GHG levels were restrained to some degree by laws aimed at increasing air quality by reducing pollution. Today, initiatives take aim at the reduction of GHG emissions specifically. These initiatives, alongside standards published through a consensus process, laws and agreements enacted at all levels of authority, and the creation of organizations and processes designed to hold others accountable, together function to address concerns over atmospheric GHG levels.

Standards, designed by open consensus-based processes, are voluntary guidelines and procedures that represent industry-wide views on the proper way to go about a specific activity, promoting fair competition, interoperability, reliability, and consistency. Regarding GHG, standards exist to guide basic assessment and measurement of GHG, quantification, monitoring, and reporting of GHG reductions or removals at a project or organizational level, as well as more specific standards, such as one detailing a specific test method for measurement of particulate emissions and heating efficiency of outdoor solid fuel-fired hydronic heating appliances.

Laws and agreements that affect GHG emissions take many forms. Chief among these are enforced mandatory caps or carbon taxes. Additionally, others voluntarily promise to reduce their GHG emissions. In either case, those involved in GHG reduction make assertions about their efforts. In those cases where the amount of GHG emitted is tied to a financial or legal system of incentives and/or repercussions, assertions of GHG emission quantities must be validated/verified by an impartial third-party. GHG emitters must, for example, make assertions based upon GHG emission measurement methods that have been shown to be both accurate and precise, as well as comply with many other prerequisites for trustable and actionable GHG assertions.

The impartial third-parties that validate/verify GHG assertions are known as GHG Validation/Verification Bodies (V/VB). The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the national standards organization of the United States of America and its representative internationally, offers accreditation services for V/VBs through the ANSI Accreditation Program for Greenhouse Gas Validation/Verification Bodies. The program essentially does for V/VBs what V/VBs do for those making GHG assertions; it looks for consistency and reliability in the operating procedures of V/VBs, inspiring confidence in the claims they make.

Cap and Trade Programs

Cap and Trade programs, one of the more popular approaches to GHG reduction, seek to reduce GHG emissions by utilizing the free market instead of working against it, consisting of two predictably named parts, an initial cap and subsequent trading. The cap is a mandatory reduction in the total amount of emissions. Trading then serves to incentivize the reduction of GHG emissions by offering a competitive financial motive.

Essentially, everyone involved receives a certain number of allowances (either for free or by auction), translating to an absolute volume of GHG they can each legally emit. If an entity does not utilize all of their allowances, the remainder can be either kept for use at a later date or auctioned off. Conversely, an entity emitting more GHG than they have in allowances would purchase additional allowances at auction. In this manner, the auction price is dictated by supply and demand. As a whole, Cap and Trade programs are cost-effective with respect to their goal of reducing GHG emissions.

The effectiveness of Cap and Trade programs hinges directly upon the accuracy of GHG emissions and reductions data, coupled with rigorous enforcement for instances of fraud or noncompliance. This accuracy is necessary for both the accomplishment of the program’s environmental goals, as well as promoting trust among the companies involved and therefore the market as a whole. ANSI-accredited V/VBs fill this niche, serving as an impartial check upon GHG emitters and assuring that programs like Cap and Trade are achieving their desired goals.

Carbon Tax

A tax on GHG emissions is another method of financially incentivizing GHG reduction efforts. Simple in its workings, a carbon tax appends a cost to every unit of emitted GHG. Lower emissions translate directly to less carbon taxes being paid. However, while carbon taxes do encourage reductions in GHG emissions, they do not put a mandatory limit on GHG emissions, allowing for some to simply pay the tax if doing so is more profitable than reducing emissions or, alternatively, passing the cost directly to the consumer or end-user. Comparing carbon taxes to Cap and Trade programs, both options have their relative advantages and disadvantages and care must be taken to select the appropriate GHG reduction strategy.

Here, as in Cap and Trade programs, accurate GHG assertions are vitally important, creating the same need for V/VBs and the ANSI accreditation process behind them. 

Validation/Verification and Accreditation

Validation/Verification, as explained earlier, is crucial to any GHG reduction program. However, while V/VBs look at GHG assertions, V/VBs must themselves be tested for competency, impartiality, and consistency. Filling this role, the ANSI Accreditation Program for Greenhouse Gas Validation/Verification Bodies accredits GHG V/VBs based upon their adherence to the requirements set out in ISO 14065:2013, including, for example, the requirement “that validation bodies and verification bodies establish and maintain a procedure to manage the competence of its personnel,” among others. Another relevant standard is ISO 14064-3:2006, offering “guidance for the validation and verification of greenhouse gas assertions.” Additionally, a relatively recently published standard, ISO 14066:2011, will be introduced into the process in the near future as well.

In this way, ANSI accreditation serves to assure other entities of a V/VB’s competency and adherence to international and widely agreed upon standards. The ANSI GHG V/VB accreditation procedure is itself thorough, lending additional credibility to those organizations that successfully complete the process, earn accreditation, and go on to retain it after ongoing ANSI surveillance and reassessment.

The Entire Process

The entire process, with GHG assertions validated/verified by V/VBs and ANSI accrediting those V/VBs, is an integral part of the foundation of any GHG reduction program. Essentially, the influence of ANSI-accredited V/VBs is always preferable. For some emission reduction programs, such as The Climate Registry, a collaboration spanning across Canada, The United States, and Mexico, validation/verification by an ANSI-accredited V/VB is not only preferable but a prerequisite for participation. As today’s world is increasingly concerned with the level of GHG in the atmosphere and the processes that affect it, this system of validation/verification and accreditation is a critically important fixture.

For further information, consult, alongside others, the following sources:
What are Greenhouse Gases? From the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Cap and Trade. Both are from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Frequently Asked Questions section of the ANSI Accreditation Program for Greenhouse Gas Validation/Verification Bodies website.
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