Natural Climate Solutions in Action: Empowering local communities to fight climate change

Published: 16 May 2023
Author: Natural Climate Solutions Alliance
Type: Insight

The aim of Natural Climate Solutions in Action is to discover and share stories that highlight the impact of Natural Climate Solution (NCS) projects on individuals who are often overlooked in discussions regarding conservation, forestry management, and climate change. These individuals include pastoralists in Kenya, fishermen in Indonesia, communal farmers in Mexico, and many others. This article highlights some of these projects in action, showing the flexibility of carbon finance for sustainable development and climate change mitigation and demonstrating how local communities can benefit from the sale of carbon credits. 

Forest protection and the Voluntary Carbon Markets 

Deforestation is responsible for one-fifth of global greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG), but local communities have traditionally received few economic benefits from protecting trees. “Forests never had value as forests but only as derivatives like timber or agricultural land,” said Todd Lemons, the co-founder of Indonesia’s Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve. In 2013, the United Nations launched REDD+, a framework created by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) to guide activities in the forest sector that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; and to boost the sustainable management of forests and the conservation of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. In the decade since, voluntary carbon markets have used this framework to develop some of the most innovative and impactful conservation and development projects around the world.  

“Voluntary Carbon Markets are making it possible for communities and projects in some of the world's most endangered forests to access capital directly- and channel the money where it's needed most. These projects show that carbon credits are not just another abstract financial instrument but a vital conservation and development tool”, said Giulia Carbone, Director of the Natural Climate Solutions Alliance. 

Carbon credits are being sold to protect diverse ecosystems such as peat swamps in Indonesia, mangroves in Colombia, grasslands in Kenya and Amazon rainforest in Peru. They are helping indigenous people secure land titles in Guatemala and Cambodia; promoting sustainable farming in the United States and Mexico; and funding the construction of schools, health clinics and infrastructure in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are also providing safe passage for wildlife between Zambia’s national parks and maintaining some of the last remaining habitats for critically endangered species like chimpanzees and orangutans. “With this mechanism, we are now able to give standing natural forests a value,” Lemons said. 

The NCS in Action projects show just how flexible and wide-ranging a tool carbon finance has become for sustainable development and climate-change mitigation. A company like Carbon by Indigo is able to break down the amount of carbon being stored in each individual field of the American farmers who participate in its program; while Guyana’s jurisdictional REDD+ program accounts for an entire nation’s forestry and conservation activities. “We’ve always advocated in Guyana that forest should be worth more alive than dead,” said Pradeepa Bholanath, the senior director for climate and REDD+ at Guyana’s Ministry of Natural Resources. “Our ambition was to find ways to value a broader range of ecosystem services beyond what could be extracted.” 

An alternative model for conservation 

Conservation efforts were traditionally funded through grants and donations, resulting in organizations struggling to secure sufficient funding for long-term impact. “We were going from funding institution to funding institution trying to get money to work,” said Jean Robert Bwangoy, who supervises the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the DRC. Even protected areas that profited from tourism were vulnerable to disruption—as the COVID-19 pandemic made clear. “If there’s a natural disaster or a reason tourism stops or donors stop giving, then we see huge conservation areas really brought to their knees,” said Jamie Hendriksen, Wildlife Work’s head of operations in Kenya.  

Voluntary carbon markets are creating an alternative model for conservation. “The market mechanism allows for private capital flows to come within the system and provide an important element of the solution,” Bholanath said. This money is giving conservation groups the financial stability they need to expand their ambitions and plan long-term. “With the funds from the sale of these carbon credits, we can finance our whole operation,” said Marco Cerezo, the General Manager of FUNDAECO, which operates Conservation Coast in Guatemala. At the same time, these markets have created a new asset class that has drawn people with business and investment backgrounds into conservation—such as Dharsono Hartono, who worked for JP Morgan and PricewaterhouseCoopers in the United States before returning to Indonesia to start the Katingan Mentaya Project.  

Communities as partners in carbon markets 

“Communities are our partners,” Hartono said. “We own this together. We save the forest together and we benefit together.” Indeed, the new model is making it easier to measure results, protect forests and lift lives in local communities. “The main goal of Vida Manglar is not to sell carbon credits,” said David Olarte, the manager of Vida Manglar in Colombia, the first project to fully measure carbon stocks in a mangrove forest. “It is to make a sustainable source of income for the community and continue with the conservation, restoration and, in some cases, sustainable use of the ecosystem.”  

In many of these projects, local communities earn more than two-thirds of the revenue from the sale of carbon credits. “We’ve seen a huge change in how communities regard the forest," said Nchimunya Haambote, the project coordinator for Zambia’s Luangwa Community Forests, whose 12 participating chiefdoms have earned more than US$ 5 million since 2017. Villages decide how to spend their income through their own democratic governance structures. “Each village has its own priorities, and they implement a plan accordingly," said Supuk Olekao, who was born in a Masai village in Tanzania’s Makame Wildlife Management Area.  

Communities are spending this new income on building schools and giving scholarships to students; hiring forest rangers to stop poaching and illegal logging; opening health clinics and hospitals; expanding infrastructure like roads and water access; improving farming; and supporting small local businesses, often led by women. “This carbon project is something that can provide payments to communities year after year going forward,” said Priscilla Lampalaa, the carbon manager of the Northern Kenya Rangelands Project. 

Many projects have also given marginalized Indigenous groups the financial and legal resources to protect their land rights and traditional ways of life. “If we lose our spiritual and burial forests, we will lose our identities as Bunong,” said Kroeung Navy. Navy’s village is one of Cambodia's seven Indigenous Bunong villages to obtain a legal land title with assistance from the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary REDD+ project. Guatemala’s Conservation Coast has protected more than 60,000 hectares of forest by helping indigenous Q’eqchi’ communities obtain land titles. Guyana’s jurisdictional REDD+ program has provided tens of millions of dollars to the Amerindian Titling Program for the country’s 235 Indigenous communities.  

Eventually, some of these communities will manage carbon projects entirely on their own. “After ten years, we want the community to become their own developers so they can do directly all the bureaucratic parts of climate action research and all the forest restoration they have to do to continue producing carbon credits,” said Rocío Harispuru, a co-founder of Toroto, which developed Laguna Om in Mexico.  

For Haambote, Luangwa Community Forests and projects like it are lifting lives in ways he would never have imagined. “Voluntary carbon market projects put development into the hands of the communities,” he said, “and allows them to determine where they want to take their lives.” 

Read more about specific Natural Climate Solutions in Action projects here.


Inclusion of an NCS project or program in the NCS in Action program does not imply a recommendation to purchase, trade or retire credits associated with the project or program. 

The NCS Alliance and its members take no responsibility for the purchase, trade or retirement of credits from these projects and programs. Instead, it recommends that individuals, companies and other organizations procuring credits as part of their climate strategies conduct their own independent due diligence to validate the quality and environmental integrity of their purchases. 

The NCS Alliance secretariat in no way benefits financially or by other means from the selection.

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