10 August 2023
Mapping the SDG claim lifecycle: 2023 update
SDG Research Manager
The co-benefits of carbon projects are often expressed as SDG claims. However, the systems standards bodies use to process these claims have varying rules and requirements. This lack of standardisation makes interpretation of the claims difficult. The type/detail of evidence behind the claims ranges and standards bodies have different interpretations of what an SDG claim represents. Transparency of the impacts behind SDG claims could increase their integrity in the market.
This report provides a guide on the existing SDG claim systems and related developments to look out for.
There is a lack of standardisation in the systems that standards bodies have for processing SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) claims. Thus, the evidence supporting SDG impacts varies in robustness and integrity by project.
Increased transparency of the impact behind SDG claims could improve the integrity of the claims in the market and enhance the buyers’ understanding of the credits with claims.
We find that 28 projects currently have circa 1.2 million buffer credits on hold. We identify at least 33 nature-based projects in the broader voluntary carbon market (VCM) which deviate from the minimum MRV frequencies, specifically under Verra (24 projects). However, we observe that several projects have not yet placed buffer credits on hold, with up to 28,917 credits with high potential to be placed on hold.
01 SDG claim systems
The co-benefits of carbon projects are typically illustrated as SDG claims (see Appendix A for information on other co-benefit claims). This report maps the lifecycle of SDG claims in the voluntary carbon market (VCM).
The SDG claim lifecycle is complex and differs substantially between standards bodies. Project developers can make SDG claims independent of a standards body or, more commonly, project developers can make SDG claims through a standards body’s SDG claim system.
Standards bodies’ system characteristics vary regarding rules and requirements, conditions for third party verification and validation, stakeholder engagement, monitoring, and other criteria. We investigate the following standards bodies’ SDG systems: Verra’s VCS Program, Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta) Program, Gold Standard for the Global Goals (GS4GG), Climate Action Reserve (CAR), American Carbon Registry (ACR), and Plan Vivo. See Table 1 for summary descriptions of SDG claim types and Appendix B for detailed systems descriptions.
SDG claims can be attached to a carbon project’s carbon credits (Figure 1a and Table 2a) or exist as separate, tradable SDG units (Figure 1b and Table 2b).
Table 1 SDG claim variations
Figure 1a: SDG claims lifecycle
Figure 1b. SDG assets and certified products lifecycle
Table 2a: Comparison of standards body systems for SDG claims associated with a carbon project
Table 2b: Comparison of standards body systems for SDG claim units
02 SDG project lifecycle examples
This section outlines the SDG claim lifecycles for two projects that have a BeZero Carbon Rating. Note that BeZero Carbon does not rate co-benefits or SDG claims and these do not contribute towards the carbon rating.
SD VISta Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project 607, ‘BBB’
The Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project is an Agriculture Forestry and Other Land use Project.¹ The project underwent SD VISta claims certification for:
SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation)
SDG 15 (Life on Land)
SDG 13 (Climate Action)
Figure 2: Darkwoods SDG claim cycle
Gold Standard for the Global Goals Avoided Methane Emission through Aerobic Composting at Vietstar Municipal Solid Waste Treatment Facility GS2525, ‘BBB’
The Vietstar project went through the GS4GG Certified Impact Statement system for:²
SDG 2 (Zero Hunger)
SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth)
SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities)
SDG 13 (Climate Action)
Figure 3: Vietstar SDG claim cycle
03 The SDG claims lifecycle compared to the carbon credits verification lifecycle
The carbon credit lifecycle is relatively standardised across the VCM, while some variation occurs across standards body systems in terms of specific methodology standards for project types and requirements.
SDG claims result in abstract impacts whereas carbon credits result in positive quantitative impacts.³ This distinction hinders the fungibility of SDG claims, as the impacts are difficult to quantify. GS4GG and SD VISta systems for SDG claims are the most similar to the carbon credit process, because they both have similar monitoring and verification/validation stages.
Figure 4: Carbon credit lifecycle diagram
04 The future of SDG claims in the VCM
There are two main developments regarding SDG claims in the VCM:
1. Projects may increase their social, economic, and/or environmental impacts
Previously, ecosystem asset projects could not seek funding through the VCM for non-carbon benefits without tying it to a carbon project. Now, ecosystem asset markets are in development and standards bodies, such as SD VISta and GS4GG, are establishing systems for this market. Through these systems, projects will be able to generate SDG units separate from VCUs (Verified Carbon Units). Ecosystem assets are relatively new and it is unclear how they will develop.
2. Increased recognition of standards bodies’ SDG programmes
The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) has proposed a requirement that carbon projects undergo a qualitative SDG assessment through ICVCM-approved systems which includes SD VISta and GS4GG.⁴
In addition to the upcoming market-wide changes, some standards bodies also have future developments on the horizon.
Table 2: Future SDG system developments
Carbon credit quality varies in the VCM, leading to the need for rating systems to enhance transparency. The integrity of SDG claims vary even more due to the wide range of standards bodies’ SDG system characteristics and requirements. Standards bodies’ SDG claim systems vary from relying on evidence provided by the project developer, to requiring monitoring and third party verification like systems under SD VISta and GS4GG.
The impacts behind SDG claims can be easily misinterpreted because, regardless of the system the SDG claim underwent, the claim consistently appears as the SDG symbol on the project page. Buyers’ perceptions of what the claim represents and its actual environmental or social impacts may not align due the ambiguous communication of SDG impacts. In-depth analysis is required to have a clear understanding of the impacts behind SDG claims in the VCM.
Appendix A: Other co-benefit systems
City Forests doesn’t have an SDG-specific system but they do encourage projects to quantify their co-benefits.⁸ Any quantified co-benefits undergo validation and verification.
Woodland Carbon Code
To demonstrate co-benefit impacts, not SDG impact specifically, project developers use the Woodlands Benefits Tool. Projects are scored out of five for their likely impacts to wildlife, water, community, and the economy. These impacts are incorporated in PDs, and if the project chooses to monitor the impacts, they can be checked during validation alongside the carbon impacts.⁹
Verra: Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB)
The CCB Program provides an independent validation framework for land-based projects and verification for ‘climate, community and biodiversity benefits’ of such projects. The CCB label can be applied exclusively to a project or in conjunction with the VCS Program. Once certified, a CCB label is attached to each issued GHG credit.
There are two routes for validation and verification depending on whether projects have completed validation with a recognised GHG programme or not.
Completion with GHG programme
- Validation: Use the CCB Project Description Template
- Verification: The combined template and the CCB Program document will demonstrate whether the project meets the verification requirements
Completion without a recognised GHG programme
- Validation: A template combined with a GHG programme and the CCB Program document
- Verification: Use of the CCB project description template, or the CCB monitoring report template to show conformance to the CCB standards.
After validation and verification, the CCB label can be applied to carbon units which were generated during the monitoring period covered by the CCB verification.¹⁰
Additionally, projects may seek Gold Level status for each element of CCB (climate, community, and biodiversity) separately. This can be achieved by meeting at least one Gold Level requirement for the element in addition to the 17 requirements that must be met by all projects seeking CCB certification.¹¹
Plan Vivo: Biodiversity methodology developments
Plan Vivo has developed a biodiversity standard, PV Nature, separate to carbon credits. The development of nature credits are designed to provide positive impacts with the focus of protection, restoration, and conservation of natural ecosystems. The framework adopts a ‘basket of metrics’ approach where a combination of biodiversity metrics are required to show positive impacts on nature within the project area. To learn more about this methodology and the creation of biodiversity markets, read our report on the route to high integrity biodiversity markets.
Appendix B: Standards bodies’ SDG claim systems details
Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) requires all carbon projects that request registration on or after 20 January 2023 to demonstrate contributions to at least three SDGs by the end of their first monitoring period. These contributions are internally checked by Verra.¹² We refer to this approach as the VCS SDG claim system. Projects that requested registration before 20 January 2023 must demonstrate contributions to at least three SDGs by 20 January 2025.
However, projects are considered to be in compliance with the SDG contribution requirements of the VCS Program if they are either:
1. Verified under the Climate Community and Biodiversity programme (CCB) (see appendix A)
2. Or verified under the SD VISta Program at the same times as a VCS Program verification and report contributions to at least three SDGs in the CCB or SD VISta project documentation.
As of 2019, Verra has another system for claiming SDGs, the SD VISta Program. The programme is independent of Verra’s GHG programme, the VCS Program. However, both programmes can be used simultaneously.
Projects that follow the SD VISta Program can generate claims, labels, and/or assets:¹³
- SD VISta claims: claims attached to the carbon project representing the sustainable development benefits that a project aligns to.
- SD VISta labels: a permanent marker added to social or environmental units that makes it easier for investors and unit buyers to identify projects which have achieved net positive sustainable development benefits. Completion of verification through the SD VISta Program and a carbon programme which allows SD VISta labelling, such as the VCS Program, permits the addition of an SD VISta label to the other programme’s carbon units.
- SD VISta assets: transactable units issued by Verra for the achievement of SDG benefits in compliance with an approved SD VISta asset methodology. After verification, the unit can be traded or retired in the Verra registry. Note, SD VISta projects can make claims and issue SD VISta assets for the same SDGs.
SD VISta claims
Project developers identify the SDGs their projects will impact while following Verra’s rules and requirements. Independent assessment of the claims is required by either a validation/verification body (VVB) or an independent evaluation expert (IEE).
SD VISta independent assessors:
The SD VISta Program requires independent assessment of SDG claims. This can be completed through two different bodies, a VVB or an IEE.
Projects that demonstrate validated sustainable development impacts are registered with the SD VISta Program and assigned ‘validated’ in the registry. Projects that deliver verified sustainable development benefits and approved by the VVB appear as ‘verified’ in the registry.¹⁴
Projects that lack the required expertise and resources to meet the rigorous standards for verification by the VVB can opt for a Verra approved IEE. Once evaluated by the IEE, the project may be listed as ‘implementation evaluated’ on the SD VISta registry and can make limited claims for relevant SDGs.¹⁵
SD VISta assets
SD VISta assets are units similar to carbon credits. Where carbon credits represent a tonne of carbon avoided or removed, SD VISta assets represent the achievement of a sustainable development benefit. SD VISta assets can be generated from activities that aren’t necessarily tied to a carbon project. Therefore, SD VISta assets can be sold independently of carbon credits.
To generate SD VISta assets, project developers can either follow a Verra approved methodology or create their own if an appropriate methodology doesn’t exist.¹⁶
Currently, there are three SD VISta asset methodologies under development:
1. ‘Methodology for Time Savings from Improved Cookstoves (ICS)’ (SDG 3 & 7)
2. ‘Methodology for Coastal Resilience Benefits from Restoration and Protection of Tidal Wetlands’ (SDG 13).¹⁷
3. ‘Nature Framework and biodiversity methodology’
SD VISta’s ‘Nature Framework and biodiversity methodology’
At the end of 2022, Verra announced they are developing a Nature Framework Advisory Group within the SD VISta programme. This framework aims to “reverse biodiversity loss and restore ecosystem services” through issuing tradable assets supporting project financing and helping local communities and Indigenous Peoples.¹⁸ The methodology is under development;its planned release is scheduled for quarter four of 2023.¹⁹
Once assets are approved, they are issued for verified crediting periods where projects must adhere to the measuring, monitoring, and reporting of their SDG benefits. SD VISta assets must be verified by a VVB. The project developer is required to prove that the benefit has only been issued once to avoid double-counting assets.²⁰
The GS4GG methodology is integrated into the GS certification process and outlines that all projects need to contribute positively to at least three SDGs, one of which must be SDG 13 (Climate action).²¹
Projects that follow the GS4GG program can generate Certified Impact Statements or Certified Impact Products:
- Certified Impact Statements: claims attached to the carbon project demonstrating its sustainable development benefits.
- Certified Impact Products: SDG impacts which exist as quantified and tradable SDG units independent of carbon credits.
Certified Impact Statements
Similar to SD VISta claims, Certified Impact Statements are SDG impacts directly associated with a carbon project. GS requires that all projects submitted for preliminary review or design certification review and renewal after 14 March 2022 should use the mandatory SDG Impact Tool to monitor SDG impacts.²²
Additionally, projects may require Expert Stakeholder opinion, depending on the SDGs claimed. The project developer is responsible for consulting the Expert Stakeholder when required. SustainCERT and an accredited VVB review the project to confirm:
1. The project and its certified SDG claims meet the requirements outlined by GS
2. The project outcomes achieve real SDG impacts.²³ The Certified Impact Statements are listed on the GS registry as ‘Certified SDG Impacts’. ²⁴
Certified Impact Products
GS4GG also has a Certified Impact Products programme. Similar to SD VISta assets, Certified Impact Products are quantifiable SDG units independent of a carbon project.²⁵ These products may provide buyers more confidence about the integrity of the impact.²⁶ These monetised SDG units require:
- A financial needs assessment
- Compliance to GS approved methodologies
The Certified Impact Products are not at risk of double financing as the projects are not permitted to register with other carbon certification schemes.
Certifications are available for emissions reductions (SDG 13), renewable energy (SDG 7), water benefits (SDG 6), gender equality impacts (SDG 5), improved health outcomes (SDG 3), and black carbon reductions (SDG 13).²⁷
Climate Action Reserve
CAR’s SDG claims system is relatively straightforward and relies on accurate information reported by the project developer. All SDGs claimed are called ‘SDG Impacts’.²⁸
The system primarily involves the use of CAR’s SDG reporting tool, established in 2020.²⁹ It is the project developer’s responsibility to use accurate information for the tool. Additionally, CAR strongly encourages project developers to add quantitative data to the tool, but this is not mandatory.
Once the project is registered, the SDG impacts can be published in the Offset Credit Details Report and on CAR’s registry.³⁰
American Carbon Registry
Following v8.0 of the ACR standard, ACR requires all projects to use the ACR SDG Contributions Reporting Template or ‘other tool(s) approved by ACR’. No other tools for SDG impact reporting have been approved by ACR to date. Projects must report SDG impacts for at least SDG 13.
The template requires project developers to qualitatively assess their projects’ positive SDG impacts and provide information on alignment with the host country’s SDG objectives when feasible. Project developers will share the completed template within their GHG Project Plan. SDGs mentioned in the impact assessment are then listed on the registry.³¹
Plan Vivo does not have a formal system for processing SDG claims. Plan Vivo’s approach to processing SDG claims is to support projects as they monitor and report those which are relevant to their projects rather than burden project developers with monitoring requirements.³² Plan Vivo outlines suggested proxy SDG indicators for project developers to measure their projects’ SDG impacts in their Impact Report.³³
SDG claims are neither published on the registry nor in project documents. However, they can be published on project pages alongside supporting evidence.³⁴ Additionally, Plan Vivo published the SDG impacts of their registered projects in their 2021 Impact Report and plans to publish this on an annual basis. See Appendix A for information on Plan Vivo’s Biodiversity Standard.
¹ Verra, n.d., Registry: Project 607, https://registry.verra.org/app/projectDetail/SDVISTA/607
² Gold Standard, n.d., Impact Registry: Avoided methane emissions through aerobic composting at Vietstar municipal solid waste treatment facility, https://registry.goldstandard.org/projects/details/403
SustainCert, n.d., GS2525 Avoided methane emission through aerobic composting at Vietstar municipal solid waste treatment facility, https://platform.sustain-cert.com/public-project/417
³ Day et al., 2020, Indicators for the promotion of sustainable development in carbon market mechanisms, https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/5750/publikationen/2020_11_25_cc_46-2020_indicators_carbon_market_pt_1.pdf
⁴ ICVCM, 2022, Part 4: Assessment Framework, https://icvcm.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/ICVCM-Public-Consultation-FINAL-Part-4.pdf
⁵ GS, n.d., Optimising Markets: Digital Measurement, Reporting + Verification (MRV), https://www.goldstandard.org/our-story/digitising-mrv#:~:text=We%20are%20now%20working%20to,compelling%20way%20to%20visualise%20impacts.
⁶ CAR, 2020, Sustainable Development Goals/Co-benefits Reporting: Helping our projects enter the CORSIA market, https://www.climateactionreserve.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/SDG-Updates_External.pdf
⁷ Bohannon, K., 2021, Plan Vivo: delivering sustainable impact for climate, people, and nature over the last 25 years, https://www.planvivo.org/blog/plan-vivo-sustainable-impact-for-climate-people-and-nature-over-the-last-25-years
⁸ City Forests, 2023., City Forest Credits Standard (Version 3.0), https://www.cityforestcredits.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/City-Forest-Credits-Standard-V3.pdf
⁹ AECOM, 2022, User Guide to the Woodland Benefits Tool, https://woodlandcarboncode.org.uk/images/PDFs/Guide_to_the_Woodland_Benefits_Tool_April_2022.pdf
¹⁰ Verra, 2016., CCB Project Design Document Template, http://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CCB_Project_Design_Document_Template_v3.0.pdf
¹¹ Climate Standards, n.d., CCB Standards Checklist, https://www.climate-standards.org/ccb-standards/summary-scorecard/
¹² Verra, 2022., Updates to VCS Program Released, https://verra.org/vcs-program-updates-released/
¹³ Verra, 2019., Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Sustainable-Development-Verified-Impact-Standard-v1.0.pdf
¹⁴ Verra, 2019., SD VISTA Program Guide, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SD-VISta-Program-Guide-v1.0.pdf; To date (12th June, 2023), there are 38 projects registered with the SD VISta programme, three of which have ‘verified’ status.
¹⁵ Verra, 2019., SD VISTA Program Guide, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SD-VISta-Program-Guide-v1.0.pdf; To date (12th June, 2023), no project claims have been evaluated by an IEE
¹⁶ Verra, assessed 2023., Verra Methodologies, https://verra.org/methodologies-main/
¹⁷ Verra, assessed 2023., Verra Methodologies, https://verra.org/methodologies-main/
¹⁸ Verra, 2022., SD VISta – Nature Framework Advisory Group: Invitation to Apply, https://verra.org/sd-vista-nature-framework-advisory-group-invitation-to-apply/?utm_source=CP+Daily&utm_campaign=9a27bdfef7-CPdaily11082022&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a9d8834f72-9a27bdfef7-110326109
¹⁹ Verra, 2022., Nature Credits: Financing Nature Conservation and Restoration, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/Verra_NatureCredits_Overview_2022.pdf
²⁰ Verra, 2019., Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard, https://verra.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Sustainable-Development-Verified-Impact-Standard-v1.0.pdf; No SD VISta assets have been issued by Verra to date (12th June, 2023).
²¹ Gold Standard, assessed 2023., Principles and Requirements, https://globalgoals.goldstandard.org/100-principles-and-requirements/
²² Gold Standard, 2022., Rule Update: The SDG Impact Tool, https://globalgoals.goldstandard.org/standards/RU_2022-The-SDG-Impact-Tool_v2.pdf
²³ GS, 2019., Principles and Requirements (Version 1.2), https://globalgoals.goldstandard.org/standards/101_V1.2_PAR_Principles-Requirements.pdf
²⁴ GS, n.d., Gold Standard Impact Registry, https://registry.goldstandard.org/projects?q=&page=1&is_certified_project=true; To date (12th June, 2023), all certified GS projects have SDG claims (1,482).
²⁵ Day et al., 2020., Indicators for the promotion of sustainable development in carbon market mechanisms, https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/5750/publikationen/2020_11_25_cc_46-2020_indicators_carbon_market_pt_1.pdf
²⁶ GS, n.d., Certified SDG Impacts, https://www.goldstandard.org/impact-quantification/certified-sdg-impacts
²⁷ Day et al., 2020., Indicators for the promotion of sustainable development in carbon market mechanisms, https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/5750/publikationen/2020_11_25_cc_46-2020_indicators_carbon_market_pt_1.pdf
²⁸ GS, n.d., Certified SDG Impacts, https://www.goldstandard.org/impact-quantification/certified-sdg-impacts
²⁹ CAR, 2020., Sustainable Development Goals/Co-benefits Reporting: Helping our projects enter the CORSIA market, https://www.climateactionreserve.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/SDG-Updates_External.pdf
³⁰ CAR, 2020., Sustainable Development Goals/Co-benefits Reporting: Helping our projects enter the CORSIA market, https://www.climateactionreserve.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/SDG-Updates_External.pdf
³¹ CAR, 2020., CAR Registry, https://thereserve2.apx.com/myModule/rpt/myrpt.asp?r=111; To date (12th June, 2023), there are 30 projects (out of 839) with SDG Impacts in the CAR registry.
³² ACR, 2023., American Carbon Registry Standard, https://americancarbonregistry.org/carbon-accounting/standards-methodologies/american-carbon-registry-standard
³³ Stillman, C., 2021, Impact Report: Plan Vivo projects and the Sustainable Development Goals, https://www.planvivo.org/news/plan-vivo-projects-contribute-to-a-high-number-of-sdgs
³⁴ Stillman, C., 2021, Impact Report: Plan Vivo projects and the Sustainable Development Goals, https://www.planvivo.org/news/plan-vivo-projects-contribute-to-a-high-number-of-sdgs
³⁵ Plan Vivo, n.d., Mikoko Pamoja - Kenya, https://www.planvivo.org/mikoko-pamoja