Recommendations on co-benefits to Natural Climate Solutions Fund from the Nature-based Climate Solutions Advisory Committee

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Recommendation Summary

Here we provide:

  1. A review of the value of considering benefits holistically in decision-making
  2. Guidance on project evaluation and the need for capacity building as an additional benefit of the NCSF program
  3. Suggestions for collaborative best practices to support project design and implementation
  4. Considerations specific to each of the three NCSF programs: 2B Trees, NSCSF, Agricultural Climate Solutions Program (ACS)


The Co-Benefits subgroup was provided with a two-page priority question on the topic of maximizing co-benefits. Based on this document, we distilled the main question as:

How should the three NCSF programs evaluate, measure and weigh/score (quantitatively and qualitatively) uncertain GHG benefits, and co-benefits to Biodiversity and to Human Well-BeingFootnote *, both in advance at the project proposal stage, and also at project implementation and reporting stage, in order to achieve the Natural Climate Solutions Fund’s primary carbon mitigation-sequestration goal and to maximize co-benefits, while balancing costs?

The need for holistic consideration of project benefits

The Co-Benefits subgroup recognizes that the goal of the NCSF program is to increase C storage and/or reduce greenhouse gas emissions by supporting nature-based activities; with this focus, benefits to biodiversity and human well-being are considered “co-benefits”. However, the interconnectedness of nature makes this division arbitrary. Successful projects need multiple gains in natural carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and community climate adaptation. Restoring biodiversity enhances ecosystems’ resilience to climate change-intensified flood, fire, insect and drought disturbance.

Human benefits come from both the natural outcomes and equitable capacity-building processes. For example, nature-based solutions can:

Therefore, when developing project evaluation schemes, Indigenous holistic worldviews of the connectedness and reciprocity of people, communities, atmosphere, and ecosystems should be considered as a foundation for NCSF programs. Seeking and supporting projects that inextricably integrate the three benefits of carbon sequestration, biodiversity and human well-being will help assure that NCSF benefits are long-lived, as they should be.

Evidence from western worldviews further supports this connectedness. Programs designed for biodiversity protection are recognizing and accounting for their climate benefits. For example, the Endangered Landscapes Programme aimed to restore ecological processes, species, populations, and habitats in Europe with landscape scale projects but is now recognizing and assessing the climate change mitigation potential arising from these projects (Critchley et al., 2021). Similarly, a recent review of actions aimed to meeting targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity highlighted that conservation actions mainly resulted in additional climate change mitigation benefits with few identified trade-offs (Shin et al., 2022). With this in mind, and acknowledging the inherent uncertainty in C storage/GHG emission reduction benefits of projects, particularly at the proposal stage, we recommend that funding decisions elevate and prioritize no-regrets projects for high enduring biodiversity and community co-benefits that store carbon, rather than the greatest carbon sequestration estimates that carry high uncertainty (see also Rockström and Tyrrell, 2017). We further affirm that projects that have the potential for negative impacts on biodiversity and/or human well-being should be eliminated from further consideration.

Evaluating benefits: Opportunity for building capacity in communities

The Co-Benefits sub-group recognizes that, given the climate-centred goal of the NCSF, reporting of carbon stored and/or greenhouse gas emissions reduced by funded projects will be a necessary step to evaluate program outcomes. A range of tools exist both within Canada and internationally that can inform this process including some that provide a framework for the integration of biodiversity and human well-being benefits in project evaluation. These include, but are not limited to:

While the application of these tools upon project completion could be done at NCSF program level, in order to enhance development of new community-led nature-based projects, there is a need to build additional capacity for project evaluation. This could be achieved through a variety of mechanisms, but we highlight a need to provide funding for this technical capacity building through 1) dedicate project-streams for this capacity-building that allow for full-time staff funding, 2) allowance for part of project-funding in all streams to be dedicated towards salary for personnel and training in tools for project evaluation, and 3) workshops to bring together members of successful project teams for training on required carbon/greenhouse gas reporting. Capacity may be an issue in many places, but it is particularly important to reconcile and be inclusive of Indigenous worldviews and acknowledge the capacity gaps within Indigenous governance structures. This approach will enhance the ability to hire Indigenous members who in turn can work within their respective territories to develop programming and identify projects that are of the highest priority, whilst also ensuring they have the capacity to see them from inception through to the end result. Examples of where other departments have taken such approaches include the Indigenous Leadership Initiative – Guardian Program and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans – Aboriginal Aquatics Resources Oceans Management Program.

Further, reporting on projects extends beyond quantitative metrics, including project evaluation that weighs both social and ecological impacts (see ‘Governing Green’ Toolkit from the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies as example in an urban context, Phillips deSouza, 2021). This can highlight and make tangible the interconnected benefits arising from projects. Allowance should be provided for projects to allocate some funding to the collection of stories, development of ways to effectively include them in project reports and the development of tools to properly store and manage these stories. For example, incorporating the use of the “two-eyed approach” where both the western science and Indigenous worldviews are incorporated as one. The methodologies used to accomplish the result will include the use and collections of stories transformed into both a narrative and a data set. Ensuring these processes are properly captured will require an understanding of when and where such stories were used to achieve a particular result. See also Ziervogel et al. (2021) for an international example.

Design and Implement via Best Collaborative processes to maximize project benefits

We recommend that the NCSF program should be deliberate in using the best collaborative processes and nature-based solution knowledge to build the best projects.

Make best use of expertise of collaborative nature-based NGOs

Build upon best collaborative processes to design and implement

Support for these collaborative efforts requires enduring agreements. Clearly state up-front the expectation of contracted agreements for initial activities and longer-term monitoring and reporting. This also provide continuity that enables capacity building. For enduring benefits, prioritize some form of longer-term covenant or zonation, such as conservation easements, protected areas, IPCAs, environmental or riparian reserves.

Program Specific Recommendations

NRCAN/2B Trees




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