New Reporting Standard Aims to Drive Finance Towards SDGs

Now, under SD VISta, projects seeking funding must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a third-party assessor, that they advance the SDGs.

Verra — a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization that manages standards for reducing GHG emissions, improving livelihoods and protecting natural resources — has launched the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta) — a flexible framework for project developers to define, and consistently report on, their most relevant and valuable project outcomes, to unlock new finance sources to support and scale up high-impact efforts to deliver sustainable development benefits.

Each year, significant amounts of money are spent on sustainable development activities worldwide; in 2016, funding for official development assistance reached $143 billion. While donors and investors often require reports about their work from project developers, such outcome reporting is highly variable and rarely evaluated by an independent third party. With an estimated $5-7 trillion needed annually to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a recent report by the Global Impact Investing Network, it is clear that more capital — deployed by investors whose aims align with these goals — is an absolute requirement. 

As the sustainable development community looks to raise this funding, the question of how this money can best drive real impact and transformation becomes ever more pressing.

The SDGs were set by the United Nations in 2015, with the intent of achieving sustainable economic, social and environmental development, but when we didn’t immediately hit the ground running toward achieving them, a number of fail-safes have emerged to help ensure that we do. For example, in 2017, after the UN Secretary General reported sluggish progress on the SDGs, Gold Standard — a standard and certification body established by World Wildlife Fund that works to catalyze action for climate security and sustainable development — launched the Gold Standard for the Global Goals, to make it easier for businesses, governments and investors to measure, track and report the full range of benefits they have contributed to, while safeguarding organizations against accusations of greenwashing.

Under these new frameworks — which apply to any project that is contributing to the SDGs, including those related to eliminating hunger, promoting good human and environmental health and wellbeing, and ensuring education — projects seeking funding must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of a third-party assessor, that they advance the SDGs.

“SD VISta will bring much-needed rigor to the assessment of sustainable development projects,” says David Antonioli, CEO of Verra, which also developed and manages the world’s most widely used voluntary greenhouse gas (GHG) program, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). “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.”

How Does SD VISta Work?

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. SD VISta also establishes safeguards to guarantee that people, natural capital and ecosystem services are not negatively impacted by the project’s activities. 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.

A number of pilot projects — for example, one underway by Conservation South Africa to improve communal rangelands and unlock rural opportunities for the Mnisi and Amashangaan communities — are already demonstrating the potential of the standard. 

“SD VISta is an important addition to the standards offered by Verra,” says Julianne Baroody, Director of Standards Development. “Many projects that are using the VCS and focus on reducing or removing greenhouse gas emissions have additional benefits. While the Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) Standards — which are also managed by Verra — allow land-based projects to demonstrate their climate, community and biodiversity benefits, SD VISta will allow other initiatives to report on other ‘beyond-carbon’ benefits and link these directly to the SDGs.”

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