VCS Overview

  • VCS is the world’s largest voluntary greenhouse gas reduction program. We were founded in 2005 by a collection of business and environmental leaders who saw a need for greater quality assurance in voluntary carbon markets. Since that day, VCS projects all across the world have removed more than 160 million tonnes of CO2e from the atmosphere. 

  • VCS projects generate credits known as Verified Carbon Units or VCUs. Each VCU represents a reduction or removal of one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). All VCUs represent an emission reduction or removal that is real, measurable, additional, permanent, conservatively estimated, uniquely numbered and transparently listed.

  • There are more than a thousand individual VCS projects all across the world, focusing on everything from clean energy, to agriculture. In fact, VCS projects can be registered in any of 15 different categories (known in the industry as sectoral scopes).  VCS is also on the cutting edge of enabling the development of programs, like our Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ Framework, that allows for regions, states, or even countries to implement polices and programs that allow for GHG reduction on a much larger scale.

  • VCS is the world’s largest voluntary greenhouse gas reduction program, by orders of magnitude. With more than 1000 projects, it’s hard to find a corner of the world that VCS doesn’t touch. We’ve experience this rapid growth due in large part to the guidance of our board, which is made of some of the pioneers of the carbon market, as well as the incredible expertise of a talented staff. We have been able to harness this expertise to organize key committees and working groups that have unlocked major innovations in the carbon market, like AFOLU projects and our JNR framework.

  • The VCS registry is your one-stop-shop for any question you might have about a VCS project or VCU. It is important to remember that VCUs exist only within the VCS registry system. As such, VCU ownership cannot be demonstrated by the issuance of a certificate.

    As part of our Program Quality initiative, we review projects to ensure they meet the highest environmental standards and that each VCU represents a reduction or removal of one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

  • VCS is headquartered in Washington, DC and has offices and representatives in Beijing (China), Santiago (Chile) and Sao Paolo (Brazil). Any questions about the VCS Program can be directed in the local language to the relevant staff member in-country, or in English to secretariat@v-c-s.org. If you’re a member of the media, we recommend you visit the VCS Press Room.

VCS Program

  • A VCS project is the activity or activities implemented to reduce or remove GHG emissions. These activities must be described in a VCS Project Description, which is also where you can find and download the documentation for any VCS registered projects.  

  • A growing number of developers are embracing larger scale reductions through VCS programs that span across industries and countries. Learn more about governments currently piloting Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ programs.

  • VCS projects are developed following a step-by-step process proven to result in the generation of quality-assured Verified Carbon Units (VCUs). More information on the following steps is provided in the Registration and Issuance Process:

    • Select a methodology applicable to the proposed project.  This can either be an existing VCS methodology or one developed under an approved GHG program such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
    • List on the Project Pipeline, a section of the VCS Project Database where forthcoming projects must be listed to begin the validation process.
    • Contract an approved validation/verification body (VVB) to validate a complete project description. This process determines whether a project meets all VCS rules and requirements.
    • Document all measured GHG emission reductions or removals in a monitoring report and have it verified by an approved VVB.
    • Submit all required project documents to a VCS registry operator. Projects can register upon validation or wait until they are ready to issue credits.
    • Request issuance of VCUs. Once VCUs are deposited, the credits can be held, transferred or retired.
  • VCS approved registries are the entry point for project registration. The VCS Registry System currently has two independent operators that interact directly with the central VCS Project Database to upload documents and issue, track and ultimately retire VCUs. Please contact a VCS registry operator directly to open an account. Before contacting the registries, please be sure to review the relevant program documents.

  • VCS projects must follow the detailed eligibility procedures of an approved methodology. Any methodology developed with the VCS Standard or the UN Clean Development Mechanism can be used for projects registering with VCS. The same is true for methodologies developed by the Climate Action Reserve, with the exception of their forest protocols. Upon selecting a methodology, a validation/verification body (VVB) must be contracted to determine whether the project meets the full eligibility requirements of the applied methodology.

  • VCS offers several innovative methodologies covering a wide range of sectoral scopes, including the energy, transportation and chemical sectors. VCS has also become a leader in the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) arena, with methodologies offered across categories such as Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), Agricultural Land Management (ALM) and others.

  • VCS offers a methodology approval process to promote the development of new innovative approaches to GHG abatement. New methodologies must contain rigorous procedures for quantifying the GHG benefits of a project as well as guidance for project developers to determine project boundaries, set baselines, assess additionality and establish effective project monitoring plans. Interested methodology developers should download the Methodology Approval Process document for further instructions and contact the VCS Association.

  • VCUs can be tagged with certifications from other programs that designate the achievement of benefits beyond reducing or removing GHG emissions. To be issued VCUs tagged with certifications such as for protecting natural habitats or supporting marginalized communities, projects must submit to their VCS registry all documents required by the participating standard before requesting VCU issuance. Learn more about participating standards and required documentation.

  • The VCS project proponent and jurisdictional proponent representations are unilateral deeds of representation issued in respect of a project, JNR baseline or JNR program. Signatories of the representations make several important attestations, including that all information and documentation they have provided is true and accurate and that they have read and understood the VCS rules. VCS requires that specific representations be executed for every project, JNR baseline and JNR program at different stages of the registration and issuance process.

    The VCS representations ensure that the proponent has taken responsibility for the reputability of the project, JNR baseline or JNR program, and the credibility of the GHG emissions reductions. As such, if it were ever found that the proponent had made any false, fraudulent or misleading statements, their signing of the representation would facilitate the ability of an entity that had acquired VCUs from the project or program to take legal action against the proponent.

    VCS relies on English law to govern the representations primarily because English law is the default law of carbon markets; the legal framework for carbon emerged from the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which mainly use English law. Further, under English law a third party can take legal action on the basis of a representation, even if that person is not expressly named in the representation, provided that they are in a class of persons specified in the representation. The VCS representations specify the classes of persons who may rely on them. This structure allows the representations to serve their purpose.

    However, VCS recognizes that some project and jurisdictional proponents may prefer that an alternative law, such as their local jurisdictional law, govern the representations. Proponents may request an alternative governing law by submitting the Alternative Governing Law Request Form to VCS. VCS will review the form, including seeking an opinion from its legal counsel as to whether the alternative governing law being proposed recognizes the representations as enforceable instruments under that law. The proponent must cover the cost of the review, including legal counsel costs. An estimate of such costs will be provided upfront, and the proponent can decide whether to proceed accordingly. Note that the outcome of a review may be that the alternative governing law is not deemed appropriate, and the proponent is responsible for VCS costs regardless. Where VCS accepts an alternative governing law, this will be indicated on the VCS website for the benefit of all proponents.


Carbon Market

  • Companies, governments, organizations and individuals from around the world are increasingly acknowledging their climate impacts by supporting projects that reduce or remove the greenhouse gases (GHG) accelerating climate change. In 2012 alone, these voluntary actions avoided more than 100 million tons of GHG emissions — equivalent to removing more than 20 million cars off the road — and provided more than $500 million of support to implement innovative climate activities. This exchange of environmental services is known as the voluntary carbon market. Within the voluntary carbon market, VCS serves as the leading quality assurance standard; more than half of all transacted credits are issued through the VCS program, according to Ecosystem Marketplace’s State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets. 

  • VCS does not buy or sell carbon credits, nor track prices or sales. Likewise, we are not an investment firm, and as such, do not provide any direct advice on the purchase or trading of VCUs. Those interested in buying VCUs from a VCS project should contact the relevant project proponent directly, or find a trusted seller adhering to codes of conduct such as the organizations listed by Green-e Climate or ICROA/IETA. For information on VCU prices, a good source of free information is the Ecosystem Marketplace annual State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets. 

  • A project registered with an approved GHG program such as the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) can register with VCS as long as if the project does not claim credit for the same GHG emission reduction or removal under both programs. Several CDM projects have done so, claiming the emission reductions achieved after the project became operational but before official registration with CDM. In addition, a project registered with an approved GHG program can cancel all or a portion of the credits issued by the program and choose to issue those credits as VCUs instead. Download the VCS Standard as well as the Registration and Issuance Process for more details.

  • Required documents for every registered VCS project are available on the VCS Project Database.  Stakeholders can download project descriptions, monitoring reports, and validation/verification reports as well as information on every VCU issued within the VCS registry system. In addition, forthcoming projects that have yet to complete validation are listed on the VCS Project Pipeline.

  • Projects that reduce GHG emissions from activities included in an emissions trading program are required to provide their validation/verification body with evidence demonstrating that the GHG emission reductions or removals have not and will not otherwise be counted or used. Projects that are registered with another GHG program may register with the VCS and issue VCUs, but the appropriate steps need to be taken in order to prevent double-counting. Likewise, projects that have sought or received another form of GHG-related environmental credit, such as renewable energy certificates, must provide their registry administrator with evidence demonstrating that such credits have not been used or have been cancelled.

    VCS has provided further clarification on this issue in a Double Counting Policy Brief. In addition, VCS has issued a policy decision for projects located in Canada. Stakeholders are encouraged to contact the VCS Secretariat to clarify whether a double counting risk exists with their project or program.