The Process Behind Developing Our New Black Carbon Methodology

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when The Gold Standard sets out to create a methodology that will enable projects to mitigate climate change? Owen Hewlett, our Chief Technical Officer, gives us a look into the process that was undertaken to develop our new Black Carbon Methodology.

I’m writing this to the sound of cheers as we’ve literally just hit the “launch button” on our new black carbon methodology. This pioneering methodology is the first effort to quantify and monitor the emissions from black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants from projects focused on improved cookstove technologies or clean burning fuels. Why is it so exciting? The potential impacts for the immediate mitigation of climate change, improving health, and improving livelihoods for local communities are enormous.

Although we like to push the boundaries, we are naturally cautious and approach new initiatives with a balance of conservatism, rigour, collaboration and scientific consensus. Our reputation depends on it. So black carbon wasn’t an area that we went into lightly.

We started following the science behind black carbon over three years ago, when some of our project developers approached us to see whether we would be willing to certify black carbon emissions. Our feeling at the time was that the science was not yet robust enough. Scientists understood that it contributed to issues such as the melting of ice and snow, and that it was harmful to public health, but no one fully understood the implications of black carbon on the climate and global warming. However, over recent years, this has changed. The US Environmental Protection Agency has released studies demonstrating the potency of black carbon emissions and the affects on climate and communities. Other reports state that as much as 20% of the planet’s warming is attributed to black carbon, making it the second highest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. With this new science in hand, it was the appropriate time to act and we made the decision to expand into black carbon.

We knew we couldn’t do this alone, so we sought out the best of the best. In 2014 we signed an agreement with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and The Energy and Research Institute (TERI) to produce a methodology that would support renowned black carbon expert Prof. V. Ramanathan’s Project Surya – a project that aims to immediately and demonstrably reduce atmospheric concentrations of black carbon by replacing highly polluting cookstoves with clean-cooking technologies – as a pilot project.

We then set out to build a panel of experts from the science and development finance communities that could insightfully and shrewdly guide us through this process. In June 2014 we launched the first public consultation, specifically requesting feedback on expanding our scope beyond the three Kyoto gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) to certifying emission reductions from black carbon.

In October and November 2014, the expert panel convened a number of times to discuss the initial methodology and any key issues. By the end of November 2014, we had developed a complete first draft of the methodology for discussion at the face-to-face expert panel meeting held in San Diego in December.

This two-day meeting was crucial. It provided the panel of experts with the right platform to discuss the outstanding challenges and opportunities both in terms of technical elements of the methodology – including the climate science – as well as more commercial elements such as marketing and finance.

Our team then set about synthesizing the comments and feedback, and a second draft of the methodology was released for review by the expert panel in early January 2015. This was discussed and a third iteration of the draft methodology was then created, discussed and sent to our Technical Advisory Committee for review.

By early February 2015 we were ready to seek input from our stakeholders and partners. We launched our second public stakeholder consultation on black carbon, but this time we specifically requested feedback on our new quantification methodology.

March 2015 was a final flurry of activity with our team, our partners, our TAC and the members from our expert panel all working together to resolve residual technical issues to be ready for publication by the end of March 2015.

Where are we now? We are proud to announce that we have launched our new methodology. It’s the first ever methodology to monitor and quantify emissions from black carbon and other climate pollutants, providing us with a real opportunity to drive finance into projects that provide an immediate and measurable impact on mitigating climate change at a local level.

Where do we go next? We will continue to work with our partners and other leading experts to further explore this market and the opportunities it may provide both in terms of quantifying specific impacts and/or moving into new sectors that could significantly reduce the emissions from black carbon. However, we can’t do this alone. Any insights, feedback or opportunities for collaboration would be more than welcome. You can email me at owen.hewlett@goldstandard.org.

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