IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

On the Importance of Baseline Setting in Carbon Offsets Markets


  • Bento, Antonio

    () (University of Southern California, Sol Price School of Public Policy and NBER)

  • Kanbur, Ravi
  • Leard, Benjamin


Incorporating carbon offsets in the design of cap-and-trade programs remains a controversial issue because of its potential unintended impacts on emissions. At the heart of this discussion is the issue of crediting of emissions reductions. Projects can be correctly, over- or under-credited for their actual emissions reductions. We develop a unified framework that considers the supply of offsets within a cap-and-trade program that allows us to compare the relative impact of over-credited offsets and under-credited emissions reductions on overall emissions under different levels of baseline stringency and carbon prices. In the context of a national carbon pricing scheme that includes offsets, we find that the emissions impacts of over-credited offsets can be fully balanced out by under-credited emissions reductions without sacrificing a significant portion of the overall supply of offsets, provided emissions baselines are stringent enough. In the presence of high predicted business-as-usual (BAU) emissions uncertainty or low carbon prices, to maintain the environmental integrity of the program, baselines need to be set at stringent levels, in some cases below 50 percent of predicted BAU emissions. As predicted BAU emissions uncertainty declines or as the carbon market achieves higher equilibrium prices, however, less stringent baselines can balance out the emissions impacts of over-credited offsets and under-credited emissions reductions. These results imply that to maintain environmental integrity of offsets programs, baseline stringency should be tailored to project characteristics and market conditions that influence the proportion of over-credited offsets to under-credited emissions reductions.

Suggested Citation

  • Bento, Antonio & Kanbur, Ravi & Leard, Benjamin, 2016. "On the Importance of Baseline Setting in Carbon Offsets Markets," Discussion Papers dp-16-11, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-16-11

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mansanet-Bataller, Maria & Chevallier, Julien & Hervé-Mignucci, Morgan & Alberola, Emilie, 2011. "EUA and sCER phase II price drivers: Unveiling the reasons for the existence of the EUA-sCER spread," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 1056-1069, March.
    2. van Benthem, Arthur & Kerr, Suzi, 2013. "Scale and transfers in international emissions offset programs," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 31-46.
    3. Goulder, Lawrence H. & Hafstead, Marc A.C. & Dworsky, Michael, 2010. "Impacts of alternative emissions allowance allocation methods under a federal cap-and-trade program," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 161-181, November.
    4. Montero, Juan-Pablo, 2000. "Optimal design of a phase-in emissions trading program," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 273-291, February.
    5. Zhang, Junjie & Wang, Can, 2011. "Co-benefits and additionality of the clean development mechanism: An empirical analysis," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 140-154, September.
    6. Menges, Roland, 2003. "Supporting renewable energy on liberalised markets: green electricity between additionality and consumer sovereignty," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(7), pages 583-596, June.
    7. Fischer, Carolyn, 2005. "Project-based mechanisms for emissions reductions: balancing trade-offs with baselines," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(14), pages 1807-1823, September.
    8. Ferraro, Paul J., 2008. "Asymmetric information and contract design for payments for environmental services," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(4), pages 810-821, May.
    9. Harrison Fell & Richard Morgenstern, 2010. "Alternative Approaches to Cost Containment in a Cap-and-Trade System," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 47(2), pages 275-297, October.
    10. Erickson, Peter & Lazarus, Michael & Spalding-Fecher, Randall, 2014. "Net climate change mitigation of the Clean Development Mechanism," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 72(C), pages 146-154.
    11. Fell, Harrison & Burtraw, Dallas & Morgenstern, Richard D. & Palmer, Karen L., 2012. "Soft and hard price collars in a cap-and-trade system: A comparative analysis," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 183-198.
    12. Horowitz, John K. & Just, Richard E., 2013. "Economics of additionality for environmental services from agriculture," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 105-122.
    13. Katherine Calvin & Steven Rose & Marshall Wise & Haewon McJeon & Leon Clarke & Jae Edmonds, 2015. "Global climate, energy, and economic implications of international energy offsets programs," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 133(4), pages 583-596, December.
    14. repec:dau:papers:123456789/5109 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Bento, Antonio M. & Kanbur, Ravi & Leard, Benjamin, 2015. "Designing efficient markets for carbon offsets with distributional constraints," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 51-71.
    16. Rubin, Jonathan D., 1996. "A Model of Intertemporal Emission Trading, Banking, and Borrowing," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 269-286, November.
    17. Warnecke, Carsten & Wartmann, Sina & Höhne, Niklas & Blok, Kornelis, 2014. "Beyond pure offsetting: Assessing options to generate Net-Mitigation-Effects in carbon market mechanisms," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 413-422.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:rensus:v:81:y:2018:i:p2:p:2271-2280 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:eee:energy:v:145:y:2018:i:c:p:468-476 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:eee:ecolec:v:150:y:2018:i:c:p:52-61 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Carbon Offsets; Crediting; Environmental Integrity;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-16-11. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Webmaster). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.