The role of so-called co-benefits, representing additional environmental, social or economic benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, will continue to grow in importance following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will further enhance the importance of co-benefits accrued from tackling climate change and streamline impact measurement across all development domains. Co-benefits are considered as the added benefits when acting to control climate change, beyond the direct benefits of a more stable climate. They include items such as enhanced livelihood opportunities, women empowerment, health and education.
Over the past decade, voluntary carbon markets have been at the forefront of assessing and measuring co-benefits - driven by the desire of voluntary carbon offset buyers to support projects with verified positive impacts on local communities and the local environment. The emergence of standards like the Gold Standard, the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standard and the Social Carbon Standard has created a vast pool of technical resources, expertise and lessons learned on how to measure and verify sustainable development impacts beyond the certification of CO2e reductions alone.
Most importantly, there is growing awareness regarding the immense value of these co-benefits: a recent study by ICROA and the Imperial College London University concluded that every tonne of CO 2 offsets not only funds GHG reductions, but can deliver up to a staggering $664 in additional economic, social and environmental benefits.
Such growing recognition of the value of co-benefits, combined with the declining costs of technology to tackle climate change mitigation (such as renewable energy technology for example) is also having an impact on climate policy commitments and design by developing and emerging countries. These countries are more likely to adopt ambitious climate targets if they can fully understand and measure the value of co-benefits arising from climate action. This should enable governments to "sell" investments into climate change mitigation and adaptation to their constituencies and change the old paradigm "development first, environment protection later".
The South Pole Group, a pioneer and market leader in voluntary carbon markets, believes that the collective experience from these markets in assessing and verifying sustainable development impacts will have a strong role to play under both the international climate change agreement to be negotiated in Paris in December as well as for implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN a few weeks ago.
There are also plenty of initiatives and examples beyond voluntary carbon markets that highlight the importance and value-added of co-benefits: Using the waste sector as a case, a recent study by UN ESCAP and South Pole Group provides suggestions for their quantification and monetisation, and draws recommendations for the design of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), including the role of governments. The study shows how instead of spending 20-50% of their annual budgets on solid waste management, municipal authorities can finance alternatives that generate a broad number of co-benefits by implementing decentralised, community-based waste-to-resource climate mitigation projects. These co-benefits include green job creation, improved health, improved waste collection, cost savings from reduced need for landfilling, and improved crop yields through the use of compost, among others.
In the realm of co-benefits related to women empowerment, a key sustainable development topic, there are few solutions that would offer full transparency in quantifying results and channeling funds in an accountable way to deserving projects. In the transition towards sustainable economies and societies, South Pole Group and the Group's partner WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture & Natural Resource Management) developed a results-based means to evaluate initiatives for empowering women, mapping metrics across six key domains: time, income, health, leadership, education and food security.
As highlighted above, the topic of co-benefits will have a role to play in the political negotiations around climate action and the technical development of new market mechanisms under the UNFCCC. The biggest challenge is to find a way to optimally integrate co-benefits into new climate protection mechanisms that is based on a definition of sustainable development that is acceptable to all countries. The recent adoption of the SDGs might help to overcome this challenge.
The task of identifying these integration barriers associated with co-benefits has been now taken on by the German Environment Agency, which commissioned a respective study to a consortium led by South Pole Group: The study aims to contribute to the discussions and negotiations surrounding the role and integration of a sound approach to co-benefits under the Paris climate change agreement.
" A more streamlined approach to the definition and measurement of co-benefits under the Paris agreement would further harmonise global efforts in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. A better understanding and tracking of co-benefits over time is also likely to increase ambitions by developing and emerging countries in adopting climate change mitigation targets. Last but not least, there is also an opportunity to leverage experience from voluntary carbon markets and increase financial flows by applying a results-based finance approach to co-benefits", says Patrick Burgi, Director Public Sector South Pole Group overseeing the project.