• Carbon markets are a fundamental tool to accelerate investments into nature and are critical to climate action.
  • This is an issue of climate justice and equity - a lack of knowledge from practitioners on the ground remains a major challenge in achieving our climate mitigation goals.
  • UpLink has launched the Climate Justice Challenge, looking for innovative solutions to help communities most impacted by climate change.

I’ve spoken with over 50 nature-based carbon project practitioners over the past year of all shapes and sizes. From multinational NGOs that manage millions of hectares of land across multiple continents to two-person community-based organizations looking to restore 50 hectares of mangroves. And I should say that there are far more of the latter out there than the former.

From these conversations, and my own experience working on a nature-based carbon project development in Africa, I have learned that the vast majority of the groups and communities that have the greatest potential to protect and restore nature to mitigate climate change are woefully uninformed about carbon markets and carbon finance that could provide desperately needed funds to support their efforts. For any Indigenous community, landowner or land manager looking to take their first step into the carbon space, where do they go? What is the process? Who can they trust? What is a fair deal?

A critical problem facing carbon markets today is asymmetry of information - practitioners on the ground don’t understand the carbon finance opportunity and furthermore don’t have the knowledge or experience to wisely engage with carbon market actors.

Fundamentally, this is an issue of climate justice, and of equity. If we don’t equip actors on the ground with this knowledge, then thousands if not millions of potential natural climate solution projects will not get access to funding and we won’t reach our climate mitigation goals. Worse, if we don't get the right information and knowledge into the hands of project practitioners, then they may be further taken advantage of by bad actors looking to make a profit on carbon markets. Not only will we fail to address the climate crisis, but we will see further exacerbation of the global inequities that are part of what caused the climate crisis in the first place.

Where do we begin? Networks of trust and open source tools

The good news is that much of the information that land stewards need to know to be able to engage confidently in carbon markets already exists. The bad news is that it largely exists in 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 in this area. Usually they are able to answer my question and give me a strong understanding of complex issues in about 1/10th of the time that it would take me to answer that question through research.

First, land stewards around the globe could greatly benefit from a central network of nature-based carbon market and development experts and practitioners. A space for questions to be asked and questions to be answered, where there is no dumb question. Giving land stewards access to such a network of people that have the existing knowledge and experience is vital to not only helping land stewards understand the process, but also to understand what is fair. If we are truly aiming to scale nature-based solutions, then we must build networks of trust and transparency into carbon markets and carbon finance so that land stewards can trust that they are being equitably compensated for the work they are doing on the ground to protect and restore ecosystems.

Second, I’ve come across many tools that different organizations, most of them NGOs, have created to help with internal or project specific assessment. From guiding internal decision making to more technical tools like projecting carbon fluxes on a landscape, many of these tools could be incredibly helpful to other land stewards and project proponents just beginning on their journey. A centralized hub for open source tools and resources in the public domain regarding nature-based carbon projects would go a long way towards ensuring that land stewards have access to the tools and information they need to feel confident in engaging with carbon markets and carbon finance.

On a final note, if you represent a company or organization that is working further down along the carbon credit value chain and are engaging in partnerships with land stewards, please don’t take advantage of their lack of knowledge and experience, take responsibility for it. 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 create trust with land stewards around the globe and ensure that they are signing fair agreements. Because, at the end of the day, our future is in their hands more than we think and an equitable carbon agreement is the only agreement that will succeed both from the climate and social justice perspective.

I’m hoping that UpLink's Climate Justice Challenge can begin to shed more light on the current carbon justice challenge facing local and Indigenous land stewards, conservationists and restorationists around the globe. We must ensure that Indigenous communities and local land stewards are connected to the resources, knowledge and community that they need to get their more than fair share of climate finance.

And if you are a land steward of any size, shape or form looking for a community of support and resources, the Carbon Commons is an independent virtual community founded by land stewards and exclusively for land stewards to begin to create this network. Through community, the Carbon Commons aims to bring transparency to the process and access to the information and knowledge needed for land stewards to make informed decisions. If you are a land steward working to protect and restore natural ecosystems, apply here to join the Carbon Commons.

Embrace the opportunity

Let us not be afraid of a changing climate, let us embrace the opportunity that we have to redistribute wealth and regenerate natural ecosystems, achieving a stable climate and a global society that works for everyone who is a part of it.

What a wonderful world that could be.

Do you have an innovative solution to help the communities most impacted by climate change? Submit your solution now to the Climate Justice Challenge on UpLink.