New Standard Strengthens Impact Financing
By Sunny Lewis
WASHINGTON, DC, February 19, 2019 (Maximpact.com News) – The nonprofit organization Verra, which developed and manages the well-used Verified Carbon Standard for greenhouse gas emissions, has started something new – the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard, or SD VISta.
Opened in late January, SD VISta sets out rules and criteria for the design, implementation, and assessment of projects that aim to deliver sustainable development benefits.
Each year, billions are spent on sustainable development activities worldwide; in 2016, funding for official development assistance reached $143 billion. While donors and investors require reports about their work from project developers, such outcome reporting is highly variable and rarely evaluated by an independent third party.
As the sustainable development community looks to raise an additional $2.5 trillion for the purpose of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the issue of how this money can best drive real impact and transformation becomes ever more urgent.
SD VISta is a flexible framework for project developers to define and report on their most relevant and valuable project outcomes to unlock new sources of finance to support and scale up high-impact efforts.
Under SD VISta, projects must demonstrate to the satisfaction of a third-party assessor that they advance the Sustainable Development Goals.
The SDGs are 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 with the intent to achieve sustainable development across three key dimensions – economic, social and environmental.
SD VISta applies to any project that is contributing to the SDGs, including those related to eliminating hunger, promoting good human and environmental health and well-being, and ensuring education.
“SD VISta will bring much-needed rigor to the assessment of sustainable development projects,” says David Antonioli, CEO of Verra. “Our past experience has shown that introducing a standard like SD VISta will add legitimacy, quality assurance, and transparency into the reporting of project outcomes and impact claims.”
“Such robust assessments will benefit all parties involved – local communities, project teams, funders and investors – and help drive more finance towards high-performing projects that generate tangible benefits for people and the planet,” said Antonioli.
Verra’s portfolio of standards includes the Verified Carbon Standard, the preeminent standard used by the voluntary carbon market with 1,400 registered projects in 80 countries, and the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards with more than 100 registered projects worldwide.
To date, the certified VCS projects have collectively reduced or removed more than 200 million tonnes of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere.
In addition, Verra manages the Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ framework and the Verra California Offset Project Registry.
Verra is an implementing partner of the Initiative for Climate Action Transparency, which helps countries assess the impacts of their climate actions and supports greater transparency, effectiveness, trust, and ambition in climate policies worldwide.
The organization is in the process of developing the Landscape Standard, with several partners, to promote and measure sustainability outcomes across agricultural and other productive landscapes.
New Standard Is Already At Work
Pilot projects are already demonstrating the potential of the standard. All SD VISta projects must engage deeply with stakeholders, which ensures that communities’ needs and desires are taken into account and that they have opportunities to influence activities on the ground.
Sixteen pilot projects are currently trying out SD VISta. Located in Canada, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, South Africa, UK and Zambia, they represent a diverse array of project types.
The projects are related to agriculture, children with disabilities, cookstoves, forestry, health and wind energy. They are united by their contributions to sustainable development.
For instance, Conservation South Africa has been working with Verra to pilot the new Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta).
Conservation South Africa has made innovative use of conservation stewardship agreements, whereby farmers in the Mnisi and Amashangaan tribal lands agree to rest over-utilized grazing areas to allow for their replenishment and active management.
These ecologically sound rangeland practices improve water infiltration, increase climate-change resilience, and restore rangeland ecosystems.
With SD VISta project leaders have a framework with which they can assess the project’s contributions to specific targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals during a project’s lifetime.
In Morocco, an SD VISta pilot project, the Circular Economy Approach to Agro-biodiversity Conservation in the Souss-Massa Drâa Region, encourages activities aimed at delivering increased income flows to local communities.
These activities may include ecobranding of products produced in the argan biosphere reserve, carbon neutral certification of tourism in the Ida-outanane tourism circuit, promoting bee pollination services at the biggest and oldest traditional apiary of Inzerki and planting argan trees for carbon sequestration. See Project ECSM and YouTube Project ECSM.
SD VISta establishes safeguards to guarantee that people, natural capital, and ecosystem services are not negatively impacted by a project’s activities.
The SD VISta Program sets out rules and criteria for the design, implementation and assessment of projects that aim to deliver high-impact sustainable development benefits.
Verra tracks and makes public data on all SD VISta projects. The Verra registry tracks the generation, retirement and cancellation of any SD VISta asset as well as all Verified Carbon Units that bear a SD VISta label, which indicates that an emission reduction unit was generated during a SD VISta-verified period.
Demonstrating a project’s contributions through the SD VISta standard provides an independent, credible and transparent means to attract additional financing to replicate and scale these activities in the region.
To apply the standard, projects must establish a “baseline” against which to compare progress, quantify the sustainable development benefits, and determine the net sustainable development impact of the project. These results are verified by an independent third-party assessor.
Auditors known as validation/verification bodies (VVBs) are tasked with assessing projects against the Verified Carbon Standard Program rules and the requirements of the applied methodology. Currently, more than 20 VVBs located across five continents are approved under the VCS Program.
This independent assessment process is critical to ensuring the integrity of the projects registered with Verra Program.
Looking to the Future
The new standard is active and at the same time some aspects are still in development. For its new Blue Resilience Carbon Credits program, the Nature Conservancy and TerraCarbon are developing an SD VISta asset that puts a value on the resilience benefits of coastal wetland ecosystem restoration and protection.
The demand for such an asset comes from the global insurance firms and other businesses that want to understand better the contribution they are making to reducing hazards in the world’s most vulnerable wetland coastal areas.
“SD VISta is an important addition to the standards offered by Verra,” says Julianne Baroody, who led the development of the new standard.
“Many projects that are using the Verified Carbon Standard and focus on reducing or removing greenhouse gas emissions have additional benefits,” Baroody said.
“While the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards, which are also managed by Verra, allow land-based projects to demonstrate their climate, community, and biodiversity benefits,” she said, “SD VISta will allow other initiatives to report on other “beyond-carbon” benefits and link these directly to the SDGs.”
Featured Image: Members of the Mnisi community sign a new conservation agreement to help Verra to pilot the new Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard, SD VISta. 2018 (Photo courtesy Verra) Posted for media use.