The CarbonNeutral Protocol Index

The CarbonNeutral Protocol

A framework for Climate Responsibility

For over two decades, The CarbonNeutral Protocol has played a critical role in enabling organizations to make claims about their climate strategies and programs. The Protocol provides a clear, credible and transparent framework for carbon neutral programs and a certification logo to demonstrate when that framework is adopted.

The CarbonNeutral Protocol was developed to ensure that corporates taking action ahead of regulatory requirements are able to report those in a way that recognizes their ambition. This 2024 version of The CarbonNeutral Protocol continues our process of annual revisions to embrace and promote evolving best practice.

Introducing The CarbonNeutral Protocol 2024

We are pleased to present this 2024 edition of The CarbonNeutral Protocol. First developed and published in 2002, the Protocol is revised and updated annually to reflect developments in climate science, international policy, standards and business practice. It is an open access standard and guide developed for business, by business that draws together leading independent standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting into a practical guide to carbon neutrality.

It underpins CarbonNeutral® certifications awarded by Climate Impact Partners to recognize carbon neutral organizations, products and activities, and provides a detailed framework for the design and implementation of credible carbon neutral programs.

Purpose

The CarbonNeutral Protocol is designed for:

  • Businesses and organizations – To understand what is required to develop a credible carbon neutral program and to achieve CarbonNeutral® certification
  • Technical partners – To ensure Climate Impact Partners’ technical partners (e.g. GHG assessors) understand what is required of them so that their services are consistent with the requirements of each CarbonNeutral® certification
  • The wider “Climate Action Community” – To encourage partnerships amongst business, NGOs, policy-makers, regulators, and civil society to promote high standards for carbon accounting and the offsetting of greenhouse gas emissions.

The CarbonNeutral Protocol has been developed as a set of requirements to provide organizations with a single-source guide to achieve technical carbon neutrality. As third-party standards are developed, The CarbonNeutral Protocol aims to provide a framework which builds upon the best technical guidance in the market.

Image: Solar Energy and Mobile Payment, East Africa: The use of the solar lighting systems enables households to switch from high-cost, polluting kerosene to affordable, safe, off-grid renewable solar power. © M-KOPA Solar

Principles

Three principles are the foundation for CarbonNeutral certifications:

  1. Promote immediate action to support deeper and widespread transformation: Carbon neutrality is the action taken immediately by an entity to fully compensate for the global warming impact from its GHG emissions. Transformation to a sustainable and resilient net zero economy is accelerated by carbon neutrality as entities act ahead of and beyond regulation. Carbon neutral entities reduce emissions under their direct control and enable mitigation activities elsewhere that require finance to deliver progress in line with the UNFCCC’s goals and contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  2. Built on conservative estimation, best practice, transparency, and continuous improvement: Entities that are certified use the CarbonNeutral® logo as a credible marker of climate action when communicating their voluntary climate activities to key stakeholders. Entities commit to disclosing the basis of their claims – including GHG emission inventories, management processes, methodologies, standards and protocols that deliver carbon neutrality in accordance with the requirements of The CarbonNeutral Protocol – and accept that these requirements may change to align with emerging best practice.
  3. Committed to pragmatism and impact: Achieving carbon neutrality is an actionable, understandable, and pragmatic response that can be adopted by any entity to meet its climate objectives and play a meaningful role in driving the transition to net zero across the global economy. The CarbonNeutral certification logo enables entities to communicate their commitment to technical carbon neutrality to key stakeholders so they may be recognized and rewarded for their progressive action.

These principles guide the development and application of The CarbonNeutral Protocol, particularly when the application of The CarbonNeutral Protocol’s requirements to specific issues or situations is ambiguous or unclear. When specific circumstances arise where the application of The CarbonNeutral Protocol’s requirements would not align with the intent of the principles, Climate Impact Partners reserves the right to amend the requirements of The CarbonNeutral Protocol to ensure the integrity of the The CarbonNeutral certification.

Structure of The CarbonNeutral Protocol

High-level requirements for achieving CarbonNeutral® certification are set out in the Core Requirements section of this document. More detailed requirements are set out in the Technical Specifications that follow it. Detailed advice and clarification on selected topics can be found in the subsequent Guidance.

The term “must” is used in this document to indicate a requirement of the Protocol. The term “must not” indicates prohibited actions. The term “should” is used to indicate a recommendation, but not a requirement.

Development of The CarbonNeutral Protocol

The CarbonNeutral Protocol undergoes an annual development cycle which involves input from multiple stakeholders.

Climate Impact Partners’ Advisory Council is consulted on development priorities within the annual revision cycle. In addition, we consult with certified companies, our assessment partners and other sustainability leaders and environmental NGOs.

Climate Impact Partners also invites and encourages input from clients and others with an interest in carbon neutrality. Suggestions for development priorities for subsequent versions of The CarbonNeutral Protocol should be sent to Climate Impact Partners at info@climateimpact.com.

Based upon our experience and understanding of changing client needs, developments in the market for climate solutions and guidance from our Advisory Council, material changes to The CarbonNeutral Protocol in this 2024 version include:

  • Updated requirement for the annual measurement, estimation or evaluation of the entities organizational GHG inventory (Technical Specification 2.3)
  • Updated requirement for organizations to set a near-term science-aligned reduction target (Technical Specification 3.2)
  • Updated requirement for achievement of internal emissions reductions requirement (Technical Specification 4.1)
  • Updated guidance on corresponding adjustments under the Paris Agreement (Guidance 4.8)
  • Updated Approved Environmental Instrument Standards (Table 10 and Guidance 4.2)
  • Updated requirements for disclosure of GHG inventories, internal abatement targets and strategies, and use of carbon credits (Technical Specification 5.1)

Relationship to other initiatives

The CarbonNeutral Protocol is both influenced by and contributes to the evolution of best practices in the areas of measurement and monitoring of GHG emissions and the design and certification of emission mitigation projects. These are critical to The CarbonNeutral Protocol’s evolution and The CarbonNeutral Protocol’s experience of being used as a framework for climate action around the world makes it a key point of reference.

A comparison of the requirements of The CarbonNeutral Protocol alongside main third party claims, certifications and standards is published by Climate Impact Partners in its Climate Action Protocol. Concerning how The CarbonNeutral Protocol relates to other GHG measurement initiatives, The CarbonNeutral Protocol is aligned with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard (including the separate Guidance on Scope 2 and 3 accounting), the GHG Protocol Product Standard, ISO standards for Life Cycle Assessment and Carbon Footprinting, and the principles of the BSI PAS 2050 standard for products and services.

Concerning how The CarbonNeutral Protocol relates to initiatives around the design and certification of emission mitigation projects, The CarbonNeutral Protocol is both influenced by and contributes to the evolution of: ICROA’s Code of Best Practice; Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (IC-VCM).

Concerning how The CarbonNeutral Protocol relates to wider corporate environmental initiatives, the Protocol recognizes the importance of taking action that is appropriate and proportionate to the range and scale of a client’s sustainability impacts. CarbonNeutral® certifications by definition are focused on climate impacts. Clients should assess their material environmental, social, and economic impacts and take action related to these impacts. Clients should use internationally recognized management standards, appropriate to the scale of their impacts, to identify and manage their key impacts. Such management standards include but are not limited to the ISO 14000 and ISO 9000 series.

Acknowledgements

Climate Impact Partners is solely responsible for the development and deployment of The CarbonNeutral Protocol as an open access standard. However, we wish to acknowledge and thank our clients, members of our Advisory Council, and the many organizations and individuals that have encouraged, supported and shared their expertise with us during the development of The CarbonNeutral Protocol since it was first launched in 2002.

We could not have done our work without their invaluable help.

Image: Solar Water Heating, India: Carbon finance enables the use of solar technology to meet the energy needs of a growing population while promoting low carbon development.

Definition and scope

The CarbonNeutral Protocol is a technical framework for achieving CarbonNeutral® certification, privately developed by Climate Impact Partners. It aims at helping organizations understand what is required to achieve CarbonNeutral® certification.

If an organization, product or activity is assessed and considered as meeting the technical criteria set in the CarbonNeutral Protocol, said organization, product or activity will benefit from a personal, revocable, limited license to use the trademark CarbonNeutral® for one year, as further defined in the applicable license agreement.

The CarbonNeutral Protocol provides a framework of best practice measures, supported by principles of conservative estimation, transparency, continuous improvement, pragmatism, impact and immediate action. There are alternative options for corporates to talk about their climate action efforts, which organizations should consider in their decision making and which may be more appropriate for some organizations depending on their individual priorities, the nature of their operations, and their geographical footprint. The Climate Action Protocol provides information and guidance on alternative claims.

Use

The benefits and use of The CarbonNeutral Protocol and the CarbonNeutral® certification are subject to the terms and conditions of agreements entered into between Climate Impact Partners and organizations that are seeking to be certified, which relate to the use of copyright, logos and trademarks owned by Climate Impact Partners, among other matters.

CarbonNeutral® licenses granted are limited in time and subject to annual review and assessment. Certifications that are made in accordance with previous versions of The CarbonNeutral Protocol are not retroactively affected by subsequent changes to The CarbonNeutral Protocol until the end of the contractual certification term. In practice, this means that the version of The CarbonNeutral Protocol applicable to a certification is the version as of the date when the contract for certification of the relevant subject is signed. However, organizations are encouraged to apply the latest version of The CarbonNeutral Protocol.

All communications and branding relating to a client’s CarbonNeutral® certification must be factually based, and consistent with the CarbonNeutral® certification achieved. Climate Impact Partners strongly recommends that organizations regularly seek legal advice to ensure such communications and branding are and continue to be in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and meet the evolving expectations of regulatory agencies and consumers.

Following publication of a new version of The CarbonNeutral Protocol, a grace period is permitted for organizations which hold active CarbonNeutral® certification to adapt to new requirements.

The grace period allows for a deferral in incorporating any new requirements introduced in the latest revision to The CarbonNeutral Protocol until the next renewal date of the certification period. The grace period extends until the publication of the subsequent version of The CarbonNeutral Protocol, which is approximately 12 months, and can be applied to certification renewals that begin within this period of time.

Disclaimer

The CarbonNeutral Protocol and corresponding certification assess compliance with the technical requirements developed by Climate Impact Partners, as outlined within relevant version of The CarbonNeutral Protocol.

Achievement of CarbonNeutral® certification means that the subject of the certification is in compliance with technical requirements of The CarbonNeutral Protocol. Continued compliance with the requirements of The CarbonNeutral Protocol for the full certification period is the responsibility of the certified organization.

Achievement of a CarbonNeutral® certification cannot be considered as a validation of the right to make any ESG claims under any jurisdiction and cannot be considered as a legal opinion..The expectations of consumers and the regulatory framework in relation to ESG claims are rapidly evolving. Climate-related claims are increasingly regulated by national and supra-national laws, which may impose additional restrictions, requirements and disclosures beyond the requirements of The CarbonNeutral Protocol and CarbonNeutral® certification. To find out general information about relevant laws and regulations across any jurisdictions please refer to https://www.climateimpact.com/climate-claims-regulation-tracker.

This information is intended as a general resource for guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete and comprehensive list of all applicable laws and regulations. It is the responsibility of the certified organization to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations.

We strongly recommend that you seek legal advice on a regular basis to ensure that the use The CarbonNeutral® logo as a marketing and claims tool is lawful and permitted.

Trademark and copyright

CarbonNeutral® logo is the proprietary trademark of Climate Impact Partners. The copyright notice displayed in this document indicates when the document was last issued.

The CarbonNeutral Protocol is protected under copyright and cannot be adapted, reproduced, modified, distributed in any way and for any purpose.

© Climate Impact Partners 2024.

About Climate Impact Partners

Climate Impact Partners is a leader in developing and delivering high-quality, high-impact carbon market solutions for climate action.

For more than 25 years the company has worked with climate-leading businesses to support more than 600 projects which reduce carbon emissions, improve health and livelihoods, and protect and restore biodiversity.

Through its quality-first approach, Climate Impact Partners’ clients are able to achieve ambitious climate targets, meet net zero goals, and deliver real impact

Awards

Climate Impact Partners has been recognized in Environmental Finance’s Voluntary Carbon Market Rankings every year since 2011, including winning the Best Offset Retailer eleven times, Best Advisory Service, and Best Project Developer award categories.