Offset Protocols, Programs, Registries & Standards

The distinction between protocols, programs, standards and registries can be confusing, since the terms are loosely defined; for example several of offset programs call themselves “standards” (e.g. Voluntary Carbon Standard, Gold Standard) and "registries" (e.g. American Carbon Registry), though these are offset programs that have many of the same functions and components. We use the following definitions:

Offset Project Protocol / Methodology

Project Protocols / Methodologies cover Accounting rules and/or Monitoring, Reporting, Verification and Certification rules. In other words, they outline the rules and procedures to determine project eligibility, additionality, baseline and project emissions for a particular project type. The terms “protocol” and “methodology” are often used interchangeably. Offset Programs either have their own protocols/methodologies for a set of project types or approve the use of protocols developed by another offset program.

Offset Programs

There are three core components of a carbon offset program:

1. Accounting rules

Accounting rules ensure that offsets are “real, additional, and permanent”. These include definitions of and rules on the elements that are essential during the design and early implementation phase of a project. They can include additionality and baseline methodologies, definitions of accepted project types and methodologies, and methodologies for validating project activities.

2. Monitoring, Reporting, Verification and Certification rules

Monitoring, reporting, verification and certification rules ensure that offset projects perform as they were predicted to during project design. Certification rules are used to confim the actual carbon savings that can enter the market once the project is up and running.

3. Registration and Enforcement Systems

Registration and Enforcement Systems clarify ownership, enable trading of offsets, track retirement of offsets and ensure that carbon offsets are not double counted through sale to multiple buyers. These must include a registry with publicly available information to uniquely identify offset projects and a system to transparently track ownership of offsets.

(Source: Testimony of Derik Broekhoff, Senior Associate, World Resources Institute, Before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, US House Of Representatives, July 18 2007.)

Offset Registries

An offset registry is a system for reporting and tracking offset project information including project status, project documents, offsets generated, ownership, sale and retirement. Offset Programs must have their own or use an approved registry to track offsets projects under their programs.


Standards can include protocols/methodologies and guidance documents, and provide guidance and/or specifications on GHG quantification, monitoring, reporting. Stand-along standards typically do not have an associated regulatory body that registers projects and also do not typically have registration and enforcement systems to track and ensure legal ownership of offset credits (e.g. ISO 14064-2 and WBCSD/WRI GHG Protocol for Project Accounting). In other words, standards do not have Registration and Enforcement Systems. The use of a standard alone is therefore not sufficient to guaranty the quality of offset credits. Many Offset Programs have their own standards, as part of their program, that outline requirements and guidance for offset projects using their system.