How to identify high-quality, carbon-removal nature projects

It's important to assess the impact of nature-based solutions to confirm they deliver on environmental and societal benefits promised.

Team Earthly

Team Earthly

08 Jul, 2024

How to identify high-quality, carbon-removal nature projects

Nature-based solutions are a key tool in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss

Over 92% of national climate targets

now reference nature-based solutions: reflecting a growing consensus on their effectiveness. Additionally, international organisations, NGOs, and private institutions are actively implementing new nature-based programs to combat climate change and restore biodiversity.

While nature-based solutions hold immense promise in the fight against climate change, identifying the most trustworthy and impactful projects requires careful evaluation. Their success depends on ensuring projects deliver on their intended environmental benefits – not just in the short term, but for years to come – without compromising local nature and communities.

What do low-quality nature projects look like?

Projects that claim to remove vast amounts of carbon in a very short space of time will often be causing damage to get these results. Low-quality projects can have a ripple effect of negative consequences:

Environmental consequences

Low-quality projects threaten ecosystems and biodiversity:

  • Deforestation: destroys habitats and disrupts carbon and water cycles which can lead to floods and droughts.

  • Monoculture planting: depletes soil nutrients and increases pesticide reliance. Loss of biodiversity affects natural pest control and impacts food security.

  • Habitat destruction: destroys habitats for endangered species and valuable natural resources.

Social consequences

Low-quality projects devastate local communities:

  • Displacement: projects without proper assessments force people from homes and traditional lands, disrupting livelihoods and cultural practices. Displaced populations strain social services.

  • Loss of access to resources: access to clean water and food is affected which can create conflict and social instability.

  • Broken promises: projects may promise economic benefits but fail to deliver, leading to resentment and distrust.

Financial risks for businesses and the projects themselves

  • Reputation damage: environmentally and socially conscious consumers may boycott companies investing in sub-standard projects.

  • Wasted resources: poor planning and oversights lead to project failures, wasting materials, labour and financial investments.

  • Invalid carbon credits: investing in invalid carbon offset programs provides no environmental benefit and damages credibility.

Our process for identifying high-quality projects

To ensure carbon removal projects deliver on their promises, we utilise

various data sources to assess

their impact on both carbon sequestration and other important aspects like biodiversity and social.

Project sourcing and registry data from VERRA, Plan Vivo, and Gold Standard

data stack with info (more).png

Some of Earthly's trusted technology and insight providers grouped by service type.

We source carbon removal projects from various reputable registries. These organisations set rigorous standards for carbon offset projects. Registering with them signifies a project adheres to strict criteria for carbon accounting, environmental and social safeguards, and transparency:

  • VERRA (Verified Carbon Standard): The world's most widely used program for greenhouse gas emission reduction projects. VERRA sets rigorous and transparent criteria for project development, ensuring projects deliver real, measurable and additional carbon reductions.

  • Plan Vivo: This organisation focuses on smallholder and community-based projects, promoting sustainable land management practices and social justice alongside carbon sequestration. Plan Vivo certification signifies that projects deliver verifiable carbon benefits while empowering local communities.

  • Gold Standard: Recognised for its stringent requirements and focus on sustainable development, the Gold Standard ensures projects not only remove carbon but also contribute to broader environmental and social benefits. Gold Standard projects often go beyond carbon capture, promoting biodiversity conservation and community development initiatives.

However, at Earthly, we take steps to go beyond registry certifications to ensure projects meet our standards. The first stage involves a detailed questionnaire with 106 specific questions designed to evaluate a project's impact across:

  • Biodiversity benefits: Does the project promote habitat restoration, protect endangered species, or increase overall biodiversity?

  • Social impact: Does it create jobs for local communities, empower indigenous populations, or improve livelihoods?

  • Sustainability: Is the project designed for long-term success, considering factors like climate resilience and community buy-in?

We also utilise information available from the registries themselves. This includes key documents such as:

  • Project Description Documents (PDDs): These documents provide a comprehensive overview of the project's goals, methodologies, and planned activities.

  • Monitoring Reports (MRs): These reports detail the project's progress and achievements in carbon removal, along with any potential challenges encountered.

  • Third-party Validation Reports (VLs): Independent verifiers assess the project against the registry's standards, ensuring the accuracy of reported carbon benefits and adherence to environmental and social safeguards.

Following this initial analysis, we conduct further research to gain a more holistic understanding of the project. This may involve investigating:

  • The project developer's experience and track record.

  • The specific interventions planned (e.g., tree planting, forest protection).

  • The types of species used in the project.

  • The methodologies employed for carbon accounting and monitoring.

Geospatial MRV (monitoring, reporting, and verification)

Mai Ndombe project over time

Tropical Forest Protection, Mai Ndombe - project impact over time.

Remote sensing is the process of collecting information about an object or area from a distance, usually using satellites, aircrafts or drones. This data can be used to create detailed images and maps of large geographic areas.

Remote sensing analysis, also known as geospatial or Earth observation analysis, is the second stage of our assessment process, to ensure projects deliver on their carbon, social and biodiversity promises. It allows us to verify project claims like deforestation trends and biomass growth. 

By analysing various types of electromagnetic radiation, we can precisely define project boundaries and track changes within and around the area, both historically and presently. This comprehensive picture helps identify potential issues and ensures project activities are delivering the expected environmental benefits.

Our partnership with


strengthens our geospatial analysis. They provide a platform to create maps, analyse data, and report on key metrics related to carbon, water, and biodiversity for any location on Earth.  

BeZero is also a valuable carbon partner that provides additional insights into project quality.  Their expertise in specific project types and focus on innovative MRV techniques contribute significantly to our assessment process. BeZero's data helps us ensure projects deliver the promised carbon removal while upholding high social and environmental standards.

This collaborations empower us with:

  • Accuracy and transparency: Earthblox data strengthens the accuracy of our assessments and ensures project transparency.

  • Monitoring and verification: Remote sensing allows for continuous monitoring and verification of project activities.

  • Scalability and efficiency: These techniques enable us to efficiently assess large-scale projects.

  • Global project accessibility: These collaborations help us overcome the limitations of physical access. By using data and remote sensing techniques, we can effectively evaluate projects regardless of their location.

eDNA and bioacoustics

While traditional monitoring methods provide a strong foundation, we continuously seek innovative techniques for a more holistic evaluation of carbon removal projects:

  • Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis: eDNA analysis utilises water samples to detect genetic material shed by organisms in the project area. This reveals the presence of various species, including those difficult to observe traditionally.

  • Bioacoustics: Bioacoustics involves recording the soundscape of an environment. By analysing these recordings, we can identify the presence of different bird and animal species.

These innovative methods empower us to go beyond basic carbon sequestration and assess the broader ecological impact of the projects we support. This ensures our efforts contribute not only to mitigating climate change but also to fostering thriving biodiversity.

High-integrity nature projects need your support

A view of an area in Ethopia

Highland restoration - Tigray, Ethiopia - In the first five year monitoring period, the tree species richness increased by 41% on average (from 70 to 99 species).

It’s clear that the success of high-integrity projects can truly move the needle on climate change. Working with trusted experts and partners to identify the highest-quality, lowest-risk carbon and nature projects is the best way to identify the way to make a real difference.

At Earthly

, our role is to find the best nature-projects out there, and connect them to businesses committed to sustainability. Through our rigorous assessment, we ensure projects are well-designed, have a positive ecological impact, and contribute to long-term carbon removal, biodiversity support, and social impact.