At the heart of carbon is my forest

A new guide for carbon-forestry projects explains why communities are at the heart of successful schemes, says David M. Wilson


The efficacy of carbon-forestry schemes is being debated as part of worldwide experiments with ways to slow global warming and reduce poverty.

Credit where credit's due coverA new book titled, Credits where credit’s due: a guide to developing community-level carbon forestry projects, explores the space between two competing arguments, providing impartial, honest and useful information about carbon-forestry projects. The book answers some basic questions, such as “What are carbon credits?”, “How do you create them?”, “Who will buy them and why?” and “What makes for a successful project and why?”

The debate about carbon forestry has seen supporters cite examples of projects providing development benefits while mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Those less convinced by the rationale or the projects themselves raise concerns about limiting access to natural resources, the commodification of nature and the poor realization of promised benefits.

The truth is that both sides are right to some extent: some schemes get it very right, to the benefit of host communities and the environment , and some get it terribly wrong and provide no net benefit, in some cases even leaving communities worse off.

To help chart a course through the forest of arguments and examples, the guide draws on recent scientific literature, carbon market data and reports from non-governmental organizations. It contains three global case studies, developed specifically for it, which are based on active carbon-forestry projects that all include agroforestry components.

The authors acknowledge that the context of each project is highly specific so have intentionally not attempted to provide a step-by-step guide but rather some key learning points relating to the most commonly cited challenges to developing and sustaining successful projects.

Technically, carbon-forestry schemes involve a change in land use through reforestation, afforestation and/or forest conservation. Establishing plantations is easy but making successful projects—those which foster a transition to more sustainable land-use practices that will be maintained long after carbon payments have finished—is more of a challenge. They require purposive and adaptive design, flexibility and, most of all, a deep understanding of, and commitment to, the communities who will be responsible for managing the scheme long after project developers have left.

Ultimately, carbon-forestry projects are about trees, landscapes and people. Forest communities and the landscape in which they live, and to which they are intimately connected, should be the focus of any carbon-forestry project.

The guide is, therefore, aimed directly at such communities as well as civil society organizations, NGOs, indigenous people’s organizations and co-operatives that directly support, represent or work with them.The guide aims to help them make informed decisions about how, and indeed if, carbon forestry can assist in meeting local priorities and delivering real and lasting development and environmental benefits.

Download the guide

Alforte A, Wilson D, Pulhin FB, Lasco RD. 2014. Credits where credit’s due: a guide to community-level carbon forestry project development. Los Baños, Philippines: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Philippines.


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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry


Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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