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Policy Brief | Recommendations to Build Integrity in the Colombian Voluntary Carbon Market

Recommendations for policymakers, public entities, stakeholders in the carbon market value chain, civil society, and international governance bodies for the voluntary carbon market

The Colombian Amazon and Pacific regions span across 42 and 10 percent of the country’s continental territory, respectively, and hold vast extensions of natural forests. These ecosystems are essential carbon sinks, rich with a wide network of biodiversity. Additionally, they share a vital relationship with the ethnic and local communities that call these lands home. However, these two regions face alarming rates of deforestation that impact the country at large, which at the national level reached 123,517 ha in 2022, according to data presented by the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies from the National Government.


In this context, REDD+ projects (projects that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries) funded through the voluntary carbon market (VCM) have become a widespread tool used to combat these shocking deforestation rates, while providing resources to conserve biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as to improve the living conditions for local communities. However, the implementation of these projects in Colombia—as well as in other developing countries—pose significant challenges in terms of guaranteeing that the participating communities generating carbon credits do so under fair agreements that include equitable access to decision-making processes and resources generated by the projects. 

Fair and Equitable REDD+ Agreements

This Policy Brief gathers the main recommendations from the Fair and Equitable REDD+ Agreements project, implemented by CCAP and WWF Colombia with support from UK PACT (Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions) through the British Embassy in Colombia. The project seeks to improve the participation of ethnic and local communities in Colombian VCM REDD+ projects, including communities’ access to the economic benefits of these projects and directly involving local community members in the design and implementation phases. Earlier this month, WWF published the guide, “Fair and Equitable REDD+ Agreements: A guide for the Amazon and the Pacific,” which can be read here.


CCAP Climate Finance and Carbon Markets Director Sebastián Lema emphasizes that,

“This is a fundamental element considering the current crisis the VCM faces, where the majority of recommendations have focused on improving the environmental integrity aspects of carbon market instruments, often leaving out the social welfare component. This is precisely what we seek to strengthen through the Fair and Equitable REDD+ Agreements project.”  

As part of this project, WWF Colombia and CCAP convened a working group on Fair and Equitable REDD+ Agreements, comprised of civil society organizations, academia, research institutes and the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC). This also featured a REDD+ Community Expert Group, including nine leaders from the Amazon and Pacific regions who have experience and expertise in the development of community-led REDD+ projects. The insights from these organizations and the dialogues held within these working groups have resulted in the recommendations presented in the Brief.


Given that the VCM is voluntary, dynamic and decentralized, efforts to promote best practices and strengthen social and environmental safeguards and requirements must be undertaken in a joint and complementary manner by all actors involved, such as government entities, international oversight bodies, civil society organizations and other carbon market actors—including, but not limited to, project developers, certification programs and buyers.

Credits: @WWF Colombia

Recommendations from the Policy Brief:


  • Recommendations to national government entities, such as relevant ministries, include the need to improve and strengthen REDD+ regulations to ensure that collective rights are guaranteed and to provide clarity on how social and environmental safeguards must be complied as part of the relationship between private parties and ethnic and local communities for VCM projects. The regulation of these mechanisms must also ensure there is maximum clarity on the functions and mandates regarding inspecting, monitoring and control in relation to the operation of VCM REDD+ projects, taking into consideration the special protection of rights for communities. Beyond regulations, national government entities should also establish financial support plans, as well as communication and capacity-building strategies, for the design and implementation of community-based REDD+ projects to promote community ownership of these initiatives and their proceeds.

  • Private actors participating in the voluntary carbon market, such as project developers and intermediaries, must comply with social and environmental safeguards and ethical social and benefit-sharing criteria. These criteria should be mainstreamed and included as cornerstones of project design documents (PDDs), as well as agreements between developers and communities and as part of mandatory requirements for the project certification process. Such programs and their standards must also be further adapted to the specific environmental and socio-cultural contexts in which they operate, including by ensuring the recognition and respect for communities’ traditions, knowledge and governance structures.

Colombian Amazon Home
Credits: @WWF Colombia
  • Further involvement of carbon certificate buyers (also referred to as carbon credits) is also encouraged to better incentivize fair and equitable agreements as part of the VCM REDD+ projects that generate such certificates. This includes the establishment of due diligence processes and increased scrutiny when purchasing carbon credits to guarantee their quality with an emphasis on ensuring the rights of the communities involved in the projects.

  • Independent governance bodies for the VCM are urged to include criteria to strengthen equity and transparency in REDD+ projects in their recommendations and tools, ensuring the fair and transparent treatment for the communities that inhabit the territories. Last, civil society organizations have a key role to fulfill in supporting local and ethnic community organizations by advocating for the improvement of regulations on REDD+ projects and the VCM, as well as by directly contributing to technical, financial and legal capacity building to reduce information asymmetries between developers and communities.

“We hope that these recommendations will be discussed and embraced by the different actors mentioned in the Brief, such as the national government, civil society organizations, developers, certification programs and international governance bodies and initiatives for the VCM,” Sebastián added.  


What is CCAP’s role in VCM REDD+ projects? 


CCAP does not partake in the VCM value chain or obtain resources from the implementation of such projects. As an independent, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC, CCAP studies the state of play, including challenges, risks, needs and opportunities that carbon market and pricing instruments produce in terms of environmental integrity and local community welfare. CCAP works with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers to promote best practices for projects with an emphasis on environmental and social safeguards, as well as directly with local community organizations to support capacity and knowledge building processes and to strengthen community-based governance instruments related to REDD+ projects and the VCM.


What is WWF’s role in VCM REDD+ projects? 


WWF Colombia does not participate in carbon markets or obtain resources from this type of implementation. WWF Colombia promotes the urgency of establishing parameters that guarantee the legal frameworks towards obtaining fair and equitable REDD+ agreements. Supported by community governance, fair agreements could be an arm for the safeguards framework to be implemented, expanding its scope of action from the prevention of damage to achieve the maximization of community benefits.


Fair and Equitable REDD+ Agreements is a project implemented by WWF and CCAP and supported by the British Embassy in Colombia and UK PACT (Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions), between 2023-2024. 


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CCAP’s mission is to support every step of climate action, from ambition to implementation. A recognized world leader in climate policy and action, CCAP creates innovative, replicable climate solutions, strengthens capacities, and promotes best practices across the local, national, and international levels to accelerate the transition to a net-zero, climate resilient future. CCAP was founded in 1985 and is based in Washington, DC.

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31 May

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