Business

Protecting Land Stewards

May 6, 2022
Eric Wilburn
Eric Wilburn
Head of Product
Protecting Land Stewards
If we want to scale natural climate solutions, put the power in the hands of the people on the ground.

Honor the True Heroes

Before joining Earthshot Labs, I spoke with over 100 nature conservation and restoration leaders and organizations of all shapes and sizes. I talked to numerous smallholders, such as a two-person community-based organization looking to restore 50 hectares of mangroves. I convened with multinational NGOs that manage millions of hectares of land across multiple continents. I worked in Africa for much of the last decade, fostering ecosystem conservation and restoration and leading nature-based carbon project development for the Gorongosa Project.

Through all of these experiences, I learned something critical and humbling. The folks that put their hands in the earth, tending to their most intimately familiar landscapes, have the most power to protect and restore nature to mitigate climate change. These same populations are woefully uninformed about carbon markets and the financial opportunities that could provide desperately needed funds to support their efforts. Even if informed, it is very difficult to ready a project for investment and access funding. Getting your carbon credits minted is also a complex and technical process.

How are they defeated?

A critical problem facing carbon markets today is the asymmetry of information and access to the tools, understandings, and resources needed to make the market — practitioners on the ground often don’t understand the carbon finance opportunity. They don’t have the knowledge or experience to get their needs met through a system designed without their consideration.

Fundamentally, this is an issue of climate justice and social equity. If we don’t equip actors on the ground with the knowledge to utilize the market, then thousands, if not millions, of potential ecological projects will not achieve their potential. If communities worldwide don’t get the support to restore their ecosystems, we won’t reach our climate mitigation goals. If bad actors looking to profit in the carbon market take advantage of restoration practitioners, the same injustices that caused the climate crisis will deepen.

Where do we begin?

The good news is that much of the information that land stewards need to engage confidently in carbon markets already exists. The bad news is that it primarily exists within extensive reports and articles that are hard to locate and even harder to decipher. When I’ve struggled to understand carbon markets, the fastest way I’ve found to get the most valuable information is to connect directly with experts or other actors on the ground that already have a wealth of experience. Usually, they can answer my question and give me a strong understanding of complex issues in about 1/10th of the time.

Land stewards around the globe could greatly benefit from access to information about how to develop their projects both operationally and for investment. Giving land stewards access to such a resource is vital to helping them understand how to get their projects fairly financed. But access to information is just one piece of the puzzle; due to the complexity of navigating the carbon project development process, carbon development support is necessary.

In the traditional carbon development model, contracts are signed early on before the project proponent can understand the financial terms necessary for the project’s sustainability or their fair share. This isn’t right. With so many opportunities for land stewards to be taken advantage of, the development support needs to work on their behalf to get the best possible financial return for the crucial work they are doing on the ground.

How We Protect Land Stewards

At Earthshot, we address some of these critical flaws in the existing carbon development process. We’ve aggregated a suite of experts, services, and technology to accelerate the development of restoration projects. We’ve also innovated a method to ensure land stewards are fairly compensated. I am pleased to introduce you to LandOS and our Just Partnership Model. LandOS is a tech-enabled project development tool backed by a team of experts. Our team at Earthshot builds capacity, leadership, and readiness in the people behind the project. LandOS shows you how to strengthen your project for investment and provides investors with what they need to know to fund your project. We can’t simply rely on our technology or a mentorship model rooted in capacity building to make this market. In addition to making the project development process easy, understandable, and elegant, we need the market to be just and transformative for land stewards.

We put our total weight behind our partners because we depend on them to restore the earth. Remember, the people who do the restoration work are the critical people in the market. Without ecosystem restoration, the carbon credit doesn’t exist, the earth is warmed, and we all suffer.

Our Just Partnership Model is about getting the best financial scenario possible for our partners. We don’t align with a single investor out of the gate. We work on behalf of the project to build a robust investment case. Once the investment case is complete, we find an investor willing to provide finance for the project on terms that ensure actors on the ground are receiving significant financial benefit. We only get paid when our project partner signs a deal that works for them. We want ecosystem restoration to scale, making sure the people who do the work are well compensated and prepared to succeed.

Do Right by People and the Earth

On a final note for the broader ecosystem of actors in carbon markets, if you represent a company or organization working in this space, please don’t take advantage of people who lack knowledge and experience. I trust that we all know when we know more than the other party, and in most business negotiations, that is a strategic advantage. But if we truly want to scale natural climate solutions, we must be in relational integrity with land stewards around the globe and ensure that they are signing fair agreements. Our future is in their hands. An equitable carbon agreement is the only agreement that will allow us to succeed. Just relationships are the only relationships that can mobilize humanity to restore nature at a scale and pace necessary to give us a fighting chance at stabilizing a safe climate.

The carbon market won’t work without solid ethics. We must ensure that indigenous communities and local land stewards have the opportunity, knowledge, and resources to get their fair share of climate finance.

If you are a land steward of any size, shape, or form looking for support and resources, we are here to support you. We at Earthshot Labs combine technology, carbon development expertise, and an a innovative partnership model to nurture the highest quality nature-based carbon projects. We provide equitable finance to launch your project and get the carbon credits you produce certified. If you are a land steward working to protect and restore natural ecosystems, let’s build a relationship.

Embrace the Opportunity

Let us be diligent in our adaptation to a changing climate. Let us embrace the opportunity to redistribute wealth and protect natural ecosystems. Let us rally to stabilize the environment through a global society that works for everyone.

What a wonderful world that could be.

Eric Wilburn
Eric Wilburn

Eric comes to Earthshot after leading nature-based carbon project development for Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. He has spent much of the last decade working in community-based conservation and ecosystem restoration efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa with intermittent forays into technology and sustainable foods startups. Since serving in the Peace Corps right out of undergrad, Eric has focused his career on climate justice, ensuring that communities that are most vulnerable to climate change are centered in the global transition towards a regenerative economy. Eric has a dual Masters in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Policy from Stanford University and a BS in Environmental Engineering from Tufts University. Eric grew up in the deep green rainforests of the Olympics region in Washington state and loves any form of movement in nature, biking, running, swimming, surfing and so much more.

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