Recap: Renewed Optimism for the Voluntary Carbon Market

Last month, May 2024, we hosted a webinar on how conservation and restoration can be a powerful nature-based solution when guided by science. This month, June, we dove into a conversation on one of the most prominent financing mechanisms for nature: the voluntary carbon market. Below is a recap of what we learned and our key takeaways.

To keep the planet below 1.5 degrees, we need to greatly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and we need to greatly increase carbon sequestration and storage (IPCC). Nature can provide up to one-third of the needed climate mitigation in this decade (source). For forests, this includes projects such as reforestation and afforestation, as well as avoiding deforestation that would result in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

According to the IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report, investments in nature are some of the most cost-effective solutions to limit global warming. Despite this, nature is severely underfunded with finance flows to nature-based solutions only reaching 37% of levels needed to reach climate, biodiversity, and land degradation targets by 2030. This is where carbon markets can help advance climate action.


The market is designed around the idea that one ton of carbon dioxide has the same effect on the atmosphere no matter where it is emitted. Therefore, buyers can “cancel out” their emissions by purchasing credits or allowances through projects that reduce, remove, or avoid emissions.

There are two types of markets—compliance and voluntary. The compliance market is mandated by government policies that set a cap on the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions covered by different entities. There are examples of compliance markets such as the California Carbon Market and the EU Emissions Trading System, however, compliance markets have been slow to take off and global agreements fail to be reached year after year at the UN Climate COP.

To fill this gap, the voluntary carbon market has emerged. This decentralized market operates outside of regulatory frameworks and allows companies to purchase carbon offsets voluntarily to compensate for their emissions and meet their sustainability goals.

Last year was difficult for voluntary markets—concerns of greenwashing were at the forefront of media and management discussions and decisions because ensuring the credibility and environmental integrity of offsets can be challenging. In addition, the accounting issues with double counting and leakage are a major problem and create bias in both compliance and voluntary markets. In particular, the voluntary market itself is volatile and struggles with instability due to its decentralized nature. However, 2024 is shaping up to be a landmark year, with significant advancements enhancing market integrity and efficacy.


There are two primary integrity initiatives working to improve the quality and confidence in VCMs:

Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI): An international non-profit organization with a mission to enable high-integrity voluntary carbon markets (VCMs) that deliver real and additional benefits to the atmosphere, help protect nature, and accelerate the transition to ambitious, economy-wide climate policies and regulation. They address the demand for VCMs by working to incentivize corporations and buyers to purchase high-quality offsets.

 The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM): a non-profit, independent governance body that aims to set and maintain a global standard for high integrity in the voluntary carbon market, unlocking private climate and carbon finance that would not otherwise be deployed. They address the supply for VCMs by aiming to standardize the project developers to create high-quality offsets.

During our webinar, we welcomed Daniel Ortega Pacheco, Director of the Michigan State University Forest Carbon and Climate Program (FCCP) and Co-Chair of the ICVCM Expert Panel, to explain the steps being taken to increase confidence in the carbon markets. He provided an overview of the Core Carbon Principles (CCPs), a set of ten fundamental, science-based principles for identifying high-quality carbon credits that create real, verifiable climate impact.

These standards help maintain market integrity and foster sustainable practices. He explains that “common safeguards and standards are vital to protect human rights and ensure that carbon markets achieve positive impacts beyond merely avoiding harm.” The CCP aims to enhance carbon credit quality and market transparency, making it easier for buyers to find and price high-integrity credits. This reduces confusion and fragmentation, ensuring buyers fund impactful projects that protect nature and support Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This is just one example of how key actors are working to advance integrity for the VCMs.



Despite 2023 being a difficult year for the perception of carbon markets, companies regained enough confidence to purchase and retire enough offsets in December to break records and increase the annual total by 6% compared to the previous year (BloombergNEF).

A recent exciting announcement comes from the Symbiosis Coalition. We invited Julia Strong, Executive Director to share more about this new coalition. Symbiosis is an advance market commitment (AMC) led by Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Salesforce to identify and scale next-generation nature restoration projects by pledging to contract up to 20M tons of high-quality nature-based carbon removal credits.

They will prioritize projects that demonstrate financial transparency, greater biodiversity benefit, and equitable engagement and outcomes for Indigenous Peoples and local communities. As Julia emphasized, “Protecting land tenure and ensuring equitable benefits for local communities is critical for the success and sustainability of carbon projects.”

This signals a strong commitment from the private sector to break down barriers and scale nature-based carbon credits.



We were joined by Nathan Truitt, Executive Vice President of Climate Funding for the American Forest Foundation. He provided an excellent overview of carbon markets, where they stand, and how they’re poised to grow. He emphasized how the government is signing strong support for the VCMs, which is increasing confidence in the markets. 

Here is a quick summary of some of the key government advancements:

• Federal Government Statement – Last month, the White House released the Voluntary Carbon Markets Joint Policy Statement and Principles, co-signed by several senior Administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Yellen, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, and Energy Secretary Granholm. This statement clearly articulates support for high-integrity VCMs and outlines voluntary principles that US market participants should embrace.

• Potential Emerging Regulations – In December 2023, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved a proposed guidance. “The proposed guidance recognizes that outlining factors for an exchange to consider in connection with contract design and listing may help to advance the standardization of voluntary carbon credit derivative contracts in a manner that fosters transparency and liquidity, accurate pricing, and market integrity.”

• California State Level Regulation – The state enacted the Voluntary Carbon Market Disclosures Act, a law intended to combat greenwashing by requiring disclosure on net zero, carbon neutrality, and emissions reduction claims, as well as voluntary carbon offsets purchased, used, marketed, or sold in California.

• USDA Engagement – USDA is preparing to establish the Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program to facilitate farmer, rancher, and private forest landowner participation in voluntary carbon markets. Report to Congress: A General Assessment of the Role of Agriculture and Forestry in U.S. Carbon Markets

• Rural Forest Markets Act (RFMA) – This bipartisan legislation would help landowners access new economic opportunities and equip them to improve the health and value of their forests, all while fighting climate change. Learn more from The American Forest Foundation here



Is the voluntary carbon market going to solve climate change? Not alone. This is simply a mechanism to finance critical carbon-removal projects that must be deployed alongside aggressive emission reductions. The standards, private sector confidence, and government support are going to further advance VCMs this year.

We hope you enjoyed this webinar on the dynamic nature of carbon markets and the ongoing efforts to ensure their integrity and effectiveness. Continued engagement and adherence to high-integrity principles will be essential in navigating this rapidly evolving field. We were struck by a point made by Nathan, “Carbon markets are not voluntary for the planet.” We need to be using every tool available during this critical decade to advance climate mitigation.

Collaboration across sectors is essential for supporting high-functioning carbon markets and developing strategic partnerships. We hope you consider joining the US platform by pledging to be part of this cross-sectoral network of restoration leaders.

Additional Resources

Connect with the experts

Nathan Truitt, Executive Vice President of Climate Funding, American Forest Foundation

Julia Strong, Executive Director, Symbiosis Coalition

Daniel Ortega Pacheco, Director, FCCP, Michigan State University & Co-Chair, ICVCM’s Expert Panel

Kevin O’Hara, Lead of US, US

About Our Webinar Partners: 

American Forest Foundation: The American Forest Foundation is a national conservation organization that works to empower family forest owners to make a meaningful conservation impact on their land. Driven by a shared purpose, a focus on verifiable results and a culture of continuous improvement, we strive to cultivate the many conservation benefits family-owned forests provide—and ensure that these benefits are valued, paid for and supported at a national scale.

Symbiosis Coalition: Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Salesforce have pledged to contract up to 20M tons of high-quality nature restoration carbon credits by 2030, equivalent in volume to the 2030 carbon removal goals of the state of California. Symbiosis represents these companies’ ambition to catalyze the supply of the highest quality nature-based carbon removal projects, driving positive outcomes for the climate, nature, and Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market: The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) is multi-stakeholder led independent governance body. It establishes and maintains the highest standards of ethics, sustainability, and transparency for the global voluntary carbon market.


Perspectives from the US Community: US Stakeholder Council Member and CEO of Arbor Day Foundation, Dan Lambe, shared his thoughts through a blog post on Linkedin. “When the government raises its hand and affirms the immense importance of the voluntary carbon market, it evokes convictions that will hopefully make corporate leaders feel more secure in taking steps toward investment.”

President of EDF, Fred Krupp, published an article in Time detailing how carbon markets can deliver funding to address the climate crisis. “Carbon markets can help fill the climate finance funding gap. Despite repeated pledges of financial support from high-polluting nations, they haven’t delivered what they promised. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to support the urgent action that’s needed. That makes carbon markets a critical source of financing.”

Leaders from the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International come together in a World Economic Forum blog sharing why companies need to engage in forest carbon markets this year. “High-quality forest carbon credits traded at the voluntary carbon market are an irreplaceable tool for investing in the protection and restoration of forests.”