The Continuous Need for Project Assessment & Scrutiny

Olivia Crowe

Olivia Crowe

20 Jan, 2023

The Continuous Need for Project Assessment & Scrutiny

Nature-based projects have many strengths and complexities that require a holistic assessment.

It's been six months since we released our holistic project assessment and times like this remind us why it plays such a critical role in our business. There are always a fair amount of questions that we receive regarding the quality of projects and how we ensure they have a real impact - and rightly so. We welcome these challenges. They are important. Effective climate action is critical and we need to keep the pressure on to constantly do better. 

So how do we know that projects are creating real and lasting impacts on the climate, nature and people?

Our goal is to direct financing to projects that have the most impact - not only on the climate, but on other components of healthy ecosystems like biodiversity and local communities.

Two years ago, we found that existing standards (like VCS and CCB) certify projects with a wide-range of quality, and we wanted to go beyond what these standards offer. This led us to develop our

project assessment

, which in combination with third-party data and analysis from partners like BeZero, ensures we maintain a high standard for the projects we offer. 

Our comprehensive assessment encompasses over 106 indicators of quality across climate, biodiversity and people, linked to both project design and outcomes. Key data points include:

  • the reference data used to calculate project baselines,

  • policy changes affecting additionality, 

  • the proportion of carbon revenue going to communities

  • measurable changes in land cover and/or specific species. 

The assessment has received recognition at COP27 and from the World Economic Forum, and we continue to integrate with third parties bringing new information into the mix. 

Project Assessment in Action: Application in the Amazon 

We recently used our assessment framework to identify high-quality projects in the Amazon, a carbon stronghold and biodiversity hotspot. Many projects in the region failed the assessment due to common trends like overinflated baselines (that determine the number of carbon credits to be issued) and a lack of focus on Indigenous Peoples’ rights. We also took political considerations  into account, such as new measures linked to Forest Code implementation that could reduce the additionality of projects. 

We also found a promising trend associated with afforestation, restoration and revegetation projects, whereby projects under development are moving away from fast-growing eucalyptus monocultures towards a stronger focus on biodiversity

As a result of our assessments, our pipeline in this region is now focused on smaller-scale restoration with biodiversity at the heart, alongside community-based forest protection. 

We recognise that mechanisms like REDD+ have a huge potential to drive large amounts of finance towards the last standing rainforests with unrecoverable carbon and biodiversity. We are excited about new approaches that can help us better understand deforestation risk by modelling the drivers of deforestation - like population density, infrastructure or neighbouring protected areas. This has the potential to ensure more projects are created in the right places and the right number of credits are issued.

We do support pioneering projects around the world that are transforming landscapes for biodiversity and people. Earthly only assesses and offers nature-based solutions because they go beyond climate mitigation to help reverse biodiversity loss while improving human well-being.

For example, nature-based solutions help societies thrive by creating and managing healthy ecosystems that secure access to fresh water, make the air safer, and increase food security.


Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary

is an example. It is under threat of deforestation, primarily driven by illegal logging for agriculture and timber markets in neighbouring Vietnam. Since 2010, the REDD+ mechanism has helped scale nature protection in this area. Whilst logging remains a threat, the project has followed science-based recommendations to tackle these drivers by improving ranger capacity and law enforcement - for example, they support 12 ranger stations to dissuade illegal activities.

The effectiveness of forest protection is often dependent upon relationships with local communities. The people pillar of our assessment heavily weighs the importance of human rights, local ownership and community engagement. Keo Seima prioritises support for indigenous beliefs and practices in project planning, and has successfully secured 7 Indigenous Community Land Titles and 3 Community Protected Areas. Local villages work alongside government-backed rangers to protect their traditionally used areas in Community Patrol Units.

The importance of Keo Seima is evident by comparison with neighbouring reserves without REDD+. The Snuol Wildlife Sanctuary lost 73% of its forest over 2 decades, and had its reserve status removed in 2018. Keo Seima continuously works with high levels of the Cambodian government to maintain the protected status from more profitable alternatives like mining.

Our assessment analyses project outcomes, including whether they are delivered equitably, prioritising vulnerable communities. So far, the project has invested $400,000 into local communities, creating clean water systems, mobile health clinics, school feeding programmes, community halls and infrastructure repairs. These benefits improve the health and wellbeing of local people. In 2021, mobile clinics served 500 residents of 5 indigenous villages, while 54% of children with improved access to education were girls.

Targeted interventions have also been designed to improve opportunities for small-scale farmers, helping them double their productivity and income through sustainable techniques. Between 2020 and 2021, 1,500 wildlife-friendly farmers sold over 11,000 kg of rice at a 30% premium thanks to the Ibis Rice Initiative.

Biodiversity is the third pillar in our assessment, and this project shows that climate finance can be a successful mechanism contributing to the annual $200 billion needed to meet recently-agreed global biodiversity targets. Our assessment looks at whether projects have robust and adaptive biodiversity strategies, both biodiversity protection and net gain, as well as other ecosystem benefits like pollination and water quality.

The Keo Seima project has a world-class biodiversity monitoring programme identifying 20 species new to science, and protecting more than 60 IUCN Red List animals, including 13 critically endangered animals like the Malayan Pangolin, the Giant Ibis and the Red-headed Vulture. Biodiversity monitoring focuses our attention to key species and trends, and so far 959 species have been recorded within the project boundaries - the highest published number for any Cambodian protected area.

Improving verification

Many projects are embracing new technology. The Keo Seima project is currently trialling bioacoustic monitoring in partnership with Cornell University. Recording devices have been placed around the reserve and continuous forest sounds will be analysed by AI to estimate animal populations from wildlife calls, detect elusive species and even track gunshots.

There has been a rapid expansion of NatureTech companies developing better ways to design, measure, report and verify project outcomes, with an ever-growing supply of data that is already helping us understand what is working well - and what isn’t. This spans from eDNA kits that test biodiversity in water and soil, devices that continuously record audio and visual data from trees, drones that capture granular changes in above ground biomass, and satellite imagery and AI that can help optimise project design from the start, ensuring impacts will be sustained.

At Earthly, we are excited to support project partners in testing these approaches and increase confidence that voluntary markets can create real and lasting benefits for the climate, people and nature.

The nature-based carbon credit mechanism, when used properly, is one of the most powerful tools we have to accelerate the urgent nature protection and regeneration needed for us to survive and thrive on our planet. 🌍 - Oliver Bolton, Earthly co-founder & CEO