Updated 
July 18, 2023

What affects a carbon credit's price?

Decoding the ecosystem of carbon credits and the factors that influence their pricing.
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This article dives into the world of carbon credits and explains what influences their price.

Carbon pricing 101

Let's start with the basics of carbon pricing. The value of a carbon credit is, like any other asset, determined by how much people are willing to pay for it in a free market. The market for carbon credits is broad and varied, with many methods for achieving carbon reduction and thousands of projects operating around the world.

While a carbon credit represents one ton of carbon with the same environmental benefit regardless of the method used, differences between methods and projects play a key role in setting the carbon credit's price.

What to look for: Type, cost to produce, PR, macro trends, vintage, quality

For example, some credits are based on forestry efforts, such as preventing deforestation or planting new trees, to offset carbon emissions. Others use "blue carbon" methods, which involve capturing carbon in the ocean. Technology-based credits use machines to pull carbon straight out of the air. Credits can also be generated by replacing inefficient, high-emission cooking methods with more efficient stoves, or by supporting renewable energy projects that replace fossil fuel energy production.

The cost to generate a carbon credit can vary a lot depending on these methods. Nature-based solutions, like reforestation, are usually cheaper than technology or engineering-based credits that use expensive carbon capture methods. This difference in cost affects the final price of carbon credits.

The perceived quality of a carbon credit and the public relations benefit for the company buying the credit can also majorly influence the price. If a carbon credit project also contributes to other desirable outcomes, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), it can increase the value of the credit. For example, a forest project that supports biodiversity or a cookstove project that promotes gender equality can drive up the price of the related credit.

"Vintage" refers to the year when a particular carbon credit was issued. The vintage of a carbon credit can affect its price for a few reasons. Firstly, older vintages might be seen as less valuable if the methods and standards for verification have improved over time. Buyers might view newer credits as more reliable or effective. Secondly, certain corporate commitments might require offsetting emissions within a specific timeframe, which could make newer vintages more desirable. Lastly, if a particular vintage year has a lot of credits but not much demand, the prices of those credits could be lower, and vice versa.

Macroeconomic factors, like changes in energy costs or big economic events like wars, also impact carbon credit prices. These factors affect the market value of carbon credits just like they would any other commodity or financial asset.

The perceived quality of a carbon credit is also really important. Organisations like B zero and Sylvera have rating systems that evaluate the quality of carbon credits and their associated projects. These ratings reassure buyers that the credit they're buying really does represent one ton of carbon offset, and that the verification and reporting processes have been accurate. They also assure that the credit wasn't produced using inflated numbers, misreporting, or dodgy methods.

The verdict

In conclusion, the price of a carbon credit is determined by the cost and method of carbon capture, perceived credit quality, PR benefits, contributions to UN SDGs, vintage and broad economic factors. Understanding these factors is super important for anyone wanting to get into the world of carbon credit investing.

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