Earthshot Standards for High Quality Nature Based Carbon Projects

Earthshot Standards for High Quality Nature Based Carbon Projects

By: Lucia Von Reusner, with support from Polly Buotte, Armando Davila Kirkwood, Rafael Roca, and other members of Earthshot

At Earthshot Labs, our mission is to unlock projects that restore and protect ecosystems and local communities on a planetary scale. Carbon markets are an important tool for investing in decarbonization but need to evolve beyond the narrow focus on carbon in order to achieve holistic regeneration. To help advance this evolution, Earthshot has made a commitment to ensure all of our projects deliver positive benefits to biodiversity, the climate, and local and indigenous communities. Our belief is that projects that go beyond carbon to meaningfully improve the quality of life for all beings will have the highest value. 

Our core principles are: Radical Transparency, Rigorous Science, Improving Biodiversity, and Community Participation.

We humbly recognize that regenerating nature is an ambitious and complex undertaking that will require continual learning and listening along the way. Working with Earthshot means you can have confidence that your projects will deliver impact with a transparent, open, and collaborative approach. Our projects will be verified through reputable carbon certification schemes. These principles represent how our projects go beyond established carbon registry standards.

We are committed to the following practices:

Ecological: Improving biodiversity and ecosystem health is core to our mission for restoring nature. It is also critical for ensuring project resilience, long-term permanence, and outcomes. As such, we work with our partners to achieve the following practices for projects:

Improve Biodiversity:

  • The project incorporates expertise on local ecology in the project design, and demonstrates how the project design improves biodiversity and climate resilience within the project biome. The project must demonstrate that the benefits are real and measurable by identifying key biodiversity indicators that are monitored and transparently disclosed during the project lifetime.
  • For reforestation projects, ​​native species are prioritized and should comprise at least 80% of the project area.  The project aims to include 20 species1, with a minimum of 10 native species, where ecological conditions permit. The project should incorporate an inventory of an ecologically equivalent native forest that informs the planting design. Exceptions must demonstrate that non-native species are better adapted to projected climate impacts or necessary to reduce regional drivers of deforestation, and do not harm biodiversity. Invasive species populations must not increase as a result of the project activities.
  • For agroforestry projects, native species are prioritized and comprise at least 80% of the project area, unless it can be demonstrated that non-native species are better adapted to projected climate impacts.
  • The project devotes a minimum of 2% or 10ha (whichever is greater) of land area to enhanced natural regeneration2, to provide a quantifiable baseline for restoration activities and contribute to scientific knowledge. 
  • Project activities such as land clearance and maintenance must maintain or enhance biodiversity of the project area. Any chemical inputs used must be accompanied by proper application training, be documented and transparently disclosed, exclude ingredients defined by WHO Class 1a or 1b3 as hazardous, and demonstrate necessity for obtaining project objectives.  
  • Killing or trafficking of native wild animals in the project area is prohibited. If these activities are customary in the project area, we will work with the community to design interventions to protect and enhance biodiversity. Project proponent will provide training to workers and communities on how to manage human/wildlife conflict effectively.

Community: Ensuring that local and indigenous communities are included in the project design, implementation, and benefit sharing is critical for creating a culture of ecological stewardship that incentivizes people to regenerate nature and support project longevity. It is also critical for reducing project risks and improving carbon stock permanence. As such, we work with our partners to achieve the following practices for projects:

  • Participatory Design: Decision making regarding project design, activities, and benefit sharing is done in collaborative partnership with local stakeholders using an ongoing process throughout the project lifetime that is adapted to customary decision-making norms, and includes marginalized stakeholders. Project proponent documents customary practices related to project goals and demonstrate how project activities are adapted to customary traditions.  
  • Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC): For projects on community owned or customarily claimed land, project engages and obtains Free, Prior, and Informed Consent from those stakeholders that own, use, or govern the land in the project design and benefit sharing mechanism. The project implementing organization can demonstrate with clear documentation that all impacted stakeholders are communicated potential risks, costs and benefits associated with the project, and that informed consent has been obtained prior to credit issuance from those stakeholders whose properties or activities are affected by the project.  
  • Governance: Projects that aggregate multiple land owners have an elected governance council and agreed-upon decision- making process that is applicable to local customary decision-making. The governance council includes representatives from the stakeholders involved in project design, benefit sharing, and implementation, and includes at least 50% female representation. This council must be established prior to credit issuance. 
  • Land Rights: Project validates the land tenure status and usage rights of all participating land stewards in the project, and has long-term contracts in place for the duration of the project crediting status. For restoration projects, contracts include a conservation management plan that guarantees protection of the planted trees following the project contracting period.  
  • Community Benefit Sharing Agreements: Project proponents have contracts in place with all participating landowners and communities, that include the terms of the Benefit Sharing Agreements, as well as confirmation of payment arrangements. Project beneficiaries are involved in shaping the benefit sharing agreement. The Project Proponent will implement a traceable verifiable payment mechanism (including in-kind) for distributing project benefits to intended beneficiaries. Project total benefits (revenues, employment, in-kind benefits) will provide participants with a greater income than the current opportunity cost of land-use activities. 
  • Public Grievance Mechanisms: A summary of grievances filed by project stakeholders and responses will be reported by the project proponent to Earthshot Labs within at least one month of receiving the grievances.
  • Worker Safety: Provide safe working conditions, protection against natural risks in the project areas, fair treatment, sound worker-management relationships, and equal opportunity for workers. Projects shall not employ child or slave labor4. The project’s labor rights policy is publicly available and enforced across all workers. 
  • Rematriation: For Earthshot projects that purchase land claimed by regional indigenous territories, Earthshot will facilitate transition of land ownership back to the original indigenous land stewards where feasible.

Transparency & Accountability: Transparency is critical to building trust and accountability across partnerships, and provides opportunity for continuous improvement through shared learnings. It is also critical for evaluating project claims and outcomes. As such, we work with our project partners to achieve the following practices for projects: 

  • Governance Structures: Projects that aggregate multiple land stewards shall have a defined project council governance structure that includes representatives from all involved stakeholders, in which participants nominate representatives and determine a decision-making mechanism for the project council. The members and governance process of this council is to be made publicly available.
  • Project Design and Activities Publicly Available: Project transparently reports the project’s theory of change, activities and interventions and all assumptions used to define the project design. Examples include:
  • For ARR: this report includes species selection and planting design
  • For REDD AUD: a theory of change that clearly mitigates the drivers of deforestation and defines the activities that will address these drivers.
  • Benefit Sharing Outcomes: The terms of the participant Benefit Sharing Agreements and summary of actual benefit distributions, including percentage of total project revenue going to communities, are made publicly available on an annual basis. This summary articulates the percentage of total project revenues going to communities, and the form (e.g., direct payments, in-kind contributions, etc)
  • Transparent Carbon Accounting: Project publicly discloses the carbon accounting calculations used to evaluate the baseline emissions, project emissions, leakage emissions, net greenhouse gas emissions, and buffer pool contribution; including the assumptions and parameters used. All estimations should use the  best-available science, models and/or in-situ measurements available at that moment. 
  • Carbon certification requirements: Projects transparently disclose and report all analysis, information and data used to comply with the carbon certification standards and methodologies. Some examples include:

    - Additionality: Projects demonstrate that the activities would not have been implemented without the additional revenues generated through the sale of carbon credits and transparently disclose the additionality assessment, including any financial, barrier and regulatory analysis. 

    Permanence: Projects accurately and conservatively estimate the project’s risk of reversal using the best available science, data and accounting principles. All information is transparently reported.

    Leakage: Projects robustly and accurately account and transparently report for any potential carbon losses due to market, activity-shifting and/or ecological leakage.  
  • Projects ensure the same carbon removals are not claimed by more than one entity, including by other national emissions trading schemes or muklti-lateral programs such as those under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and UN REDD programmes. This documentation is verified through comparison across registries and is transparently disclosed. 

These standards were developed by drawing on the best available science, existing sustainable project development standards, and insights from industry experts. Our understanding of what is required to regenerate the environment and communities will evolve through our work and input from partners. We welcome collaboration to continue advancing the positive impact that carbon markets can achieve for the stakeholders that projects aim to serve.

1 Unpublished analysis by Earthshot indicates that increasing planting from 1 to 10 species provides strong protection against biomass loss from pests. Protection reaches a maximum and plateaus at 20 species.
2 Enhanced natural regeneration, sometimes referred to as unaided natural regeneration, means letting forests regenerate naturally without planting trees, as well as maintaining natural disturbance regimes. Work may need to be done to create conditions for this to happen, such as fencing out cattle.
3 WHO Definition of Highly Hazardous Pesticides
4 Smallholder led projects may engage family members in project activities on their own land

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