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7 Recommendations to Ensure Equitable REDD+ Projects

Men record data on a forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Team Members at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Record Data on the Forest

Some of the most critical ecosystems, such as tropical forests, are located in the Global South. With the threat of climate change, it is urgent to protect them and maintain their biodiversity.

Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) of Global South countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. They have been largely excluded from access to conservation finance, and the formation of conservation strategies. The long-term impacts of this power imbalance render most biodiversity protection projects unsustainable. IPLCs who have tried to protect their lands have not been rewarded for their efforts, and in extreme cases, have paid with their lives.


However, over the past decade climate action and conservation has increasingly recognized and invested in the crucial role of IPLCs in sustainable forest management leading to climate change mitigation.


One such strategy is REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), a climate change mitigation model that pays local communities to protect their forests. Community-based REDD+ projects center indigenous practices, knowledge and self-determined development goals to protect biodiverse forests. These REDD+ projects provide communities with access to international markets and replaces reliance on donor funding.


As carbon project developers seek to establish REDD+ projects in the Global South, it is imperative that governments and Indigenous people engage as equal partners and co-designers. This is a prerequisite if projects are to be effective and sustainable.


The following recommendations aim to create successful, community-based REDD+ projects in the Global South. They ensure that compensation earned from these projects are direct, tangible and measurable to local people and host governments. These seven recommendations are distilled from the Best Practices for Project Implementation Framework, created in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, and based on Wildlife Works’ 25 years of experience working directly with communities on wildlife and forest conservation projects.


Recommendation 1: Listen to Communities


Developers must first conduct in-depth knowledge sharing and listening sessions with communities to understand their lived experiences, including community history, governance structures, resources and land use.


Where possible, the developer should engage local, reputable NGOs, which may have established relationships with communities and can assist to ensure accurate interpretation of information.


A woman harvests food in a conservation garden at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya
A woman harvests food in a sustainable conservation garden at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya


Recommendation 2: Ensure Free, Prior and Informed Consent


Indigenous people and local communities must have access to the information and be given adequate time to give free, prior and informed consent both before starting a project and for its duration. This must begin before the project start date and continue throughout the lifetime of the project. Communities are stewards of their natural environment and resources. Their perspectives, ideas and historical knowledge should be integral to project design and implementation. Throughout a project’s lifespan, it is vital to maintain community dialogue, ensuring a feedback loop to discuss their concerns and contribute to project improvements.


The developer should aim to establish culturally respectful processes and long-lasting relationships built on mutual respect and trust that upholds a community’s established governance structure. This ensures local leaders are included as project co-creators and implementing partners.


Community members cast votes at a Free, Prior and Informed Consent meeting at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya
Community members cast votes at a Free, Prior and Informed Consent meeting at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya


Recommendation 3: Invite, Include, and Agree on Fair Revenue Share


Revenue share agreements should be set up in partnership with communities. This ensures that the maximum amount of revenue is channeled directly to the community’s self-determined development projects, while balancing the sustainability of the project. The revenue structure should, where possible, be aligned to national carbon program policies.


Based on the latest legal requirements, carbon project developers should establish appropriate mechanisms for sharing proceeds, such as democratically elected community committees. These should be informed by existing best practice and lessons learned from previous REDD+ projects.


Community members at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the DRC use carbon revenue to build a new school
Community members at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the DRC use carbon revenue to build a new school


Recommendation 4: Support Community Land Rights


With consent, REDD+ projects can be located on land which is owned, inhabited and used by Indigenous or local people. Without secure land tenure or customary rights, the allocation of carbon revenue can be misdirected and the effectiveness of REDD+ projects can be compromised.


Therefore, project developers should work with community partners and project proponents to establish clear property and customary usage rights to land and carbon. Participatory mapping is also an important tool that supports the depth and knowledge of communities to map all rights, resources, lands, and territories based on customary law. This is a prerequisite for successful, community-based REDD+ projects. Because of this, rights-based REDD+ projects are proving to be a catalyst to clarify and strengthen tenure and customary rights and usage for IPLCs.


A traditional Chief stands in his forest at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
A traditional Chief stands in his forest at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)


Recommendation 5: Model, Monitor and Incentivize


Monitoring, reporting and verification should be informed by rigorous measurement of avoided deforestation with remote sensing that is ground-truthed by locally trained forest monitoring technicians.


Every REDD+ project should set clearly defined, location-specific emission reduction targets that pay communities when successfully met or exceeded.


The Biodiversity Team reviews camera trap footage at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
The biodiversity team reviews camera trap footage at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)


Recommendation 6: Develop Community-Determined Economic and Social Opportunities


Once transparency and accountability have been established, carbon finance can become a powerful tool for transformation.

Based on the self-identified needs and development aspirations of the community, finance can be channeled into community investments such as healthcare, education, clean water and infrastructure. Such project activities can catalyze economic development in a community. The sustainability of these project activities is most essential to successful, long-term conservation.


A community member makes eco-charcoal at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya
A community member makes eco-charcoal at the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project in Kenya


Recommendation 7: Accurate, Targeted and Nested Baseline Allocation


A baseline allocation from assessed risk that distributes national Forest Reference Emission Levels (FREL) according to future risk of deforestation, is an effective method to drive more conservation finance to communities who are facing the highest deforestation pressures.


This baseline allocation from assessed risk method allows national governments to use the voluntary carbon market effectively to concentrate financial incentives in forest areas with the highest risk, while contributing to their global climate commitments (through their National Determined Contributions).


The forest at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the DRC
The forest at the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project in the DRC

Engagement in Action: The Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project


As a case study for effective implementation of these recommendations, consider Wildlife Works’ REDD+ project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Mai Ndombe. This project informed the development of the DRC Best Practices Framework.


While the DRC still reels from colonialism and civil war, it also boasts an abundance of natural resources. In fact, the country’s vast forests currently sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than the Amazon rainforest.


The Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project, which protects 300,000 hectares of forest and seven critically endangered species, shows how community-centered REDD+ programs can provide a just solution to marginalized communities.


Since it began in 2011, the Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project has used carbon finance to address specific matters of local concern. To date, it has been used to build 12 new schools, set a further six under construction and establish a hospital and six mobile healthcare units where no facilities previously existed.


Community members are democratically elected to Local Carbon Committees, which help decide how revenue from the project is spent. Local knowledge, supported by science, strengthens food security and monitors the return of biodiversity to the area. The project prevents emissions from deforestation, protects biodiversity, and creates new, sustainable economic opportunities.

This project is also the first REDD+ project to be nested into DRC’s jurisdictional program, ensuring that Mai Ndombe’s avoided deforestation performance counts toward the country’s global climate commitments.


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