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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

According to Bloomberg, a US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commissioner had some rather big news:

“The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission expects to finalize its guidance for carbon credits within the next six months, as it pursues a broader crackdown of fraud and manipulation in the embattled market. CFTC Commissioner Christy Goldsmith Romero said she anticipates the final rulebook will be issued by the end of the year and maybe as soon as September. For carbon credits to trade ‘on our markets, we have to ensure there’s integrity,’ Romero said in an interview on the sidelines of City Week 2024 in London. ‘We have to make sure we have something trading that people can rely on to be what it is, to be what it says it does.’”

A confidence boost is definitely needed – the voluntary market has been rocked with controversies in recent years:

“Since January 2022, prices have plummeted. One of the most popular futures contracts for voluntary carbon offsets, the CBL Global Emissions Offset, has dropped over 90% to 50 cents per ton, down from roughly $8 per ton.”

The Commission proposed Guidance in December on which they sought comments. The final guidance is expected to build on the concepts and standards issued by the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market.

No doubt, this is a welcome and needed development, but it is important to keep three things in mind:

  • The CFTC action won’t change the nature of carbon offsets in the US – they will remain voluntary and not an emissions compliance tool.
  • The guidance relates to mechanics of trading markets (CFTC-regulated exchanges or designated contract markets (DCM)) but should also address the government’s view on characteristics of carbon credit integrity and quality that underlie offsets as tradeable commodities.
  • The final phrase in Romero’s quote brings to mind Matt Levine’s relevant question we wrote about recently – is a carbon credit “one ton of reduced carbon emissions” or is it merely “one registered carbon credit”? This is closely related to my preceding point, but there is a big difference when it comes to evaluating impact and managing carbon offset risk. I expect (hope?) the guidance will bring clarification to that ambiguity.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile