Blog type: Plan Vivo & voluntary carbon market

Originally published: An original blog piece published on the Plan Vivo website

Background: Keith joined the Plan Vivo Foundation (PVF) in June 2020, one of the most turbulent years in recent history. Coming from a background in International Development, and before that the Private Sector, Keith shares some thoughts about the potential in the environmental and VCM sectors, outlines PVFs ambitious plans for growth and introduces us to some new members of the team.


As the sun sets on 2020, many will be glad to see the back of a year in which so many people have been affected by the terrible impact of a global pandemic. Recent positive news on vaccines gives us all some much-needed promise of a light at the end of the tunnel, but many are asking if things ever be the same again, or if they even should? The COVID-19 pandemic has rewritten the rules of engagement and seen behavioural change shifts happen across the world in a matter of months, changes that usually take years and even decades to establish. Discussions around the origins and cause of the pandemic, and restrictions which have slowed the pace of life, have prompted many of us to reassess our relationship with nature and the environment. While the impact of the pandemic on human health and the economy has been catastrophic, there may also be the seeds of opportunity to resist going back to ‘normal’ and rather move towards a more sustainable way of life, for both people and planet. At the Plan Vivo Foundation, we feel strongly that we can play a key role in helping to facilitate this.


A bit of background

I joined the Plan Vivo team as the COO back in June 2020, which is already almost 6 months ago, initially working remotely from Malawi where I was based for my previous role. It has been a real privilege to join the team at such an exciting time in the organisation’s development and I am immensely proud to be associated with and represent such as passionate and motivated organisation and network, that truly believes the way to tackle climate change is to empower and support those most affected by it, namely communities and smallholders. Since our inception back in 1994, the Plan Vivo Foundation, through the design, development and implementation of the Standard, has been living that approach and has established a strong reputation for working in an inclusive and participatory way with in-county partners and rural communities. Through this approach, we have enabled community engagement in sustainable land-use practices across the world, which in turn has actively supported sustainable livelihoods and ecosystem conservation. This is facilitated through funds generated from the voluntary carbon market, whilst ensuring that any climate finance generated is shared equitably with communities. Ultimately, this allows the Plan Vivo network to move towards our vision of making a meaningful contribution to meeting both climate change targets (so far, we have over 4 million tCO2 of planned emission reductions) and human-development targets, reaching over 20,000 participating smallholders and over 60,000 community members. The numbers are impressive, but we have ambitious plans to scale up the impact over the next 3-5 years.


Tahiry Honko Plan Vivo community monitoring training

Project participants from one of the latest Plan Vivo-certified projects – Tahiry Honko


Despite everything, the future looks positive

In 2020 alone, Plan Vivo has grown significantly. This financial year (March 2020 to Feb 2021) will see our highest ever number of issuances, topping 800,000 certificates/tCO2 in one annual cycle for the first time ever, a 44% increase from last year. While COVID has impacted operations for some of our projects, thankfully most remain relatively unaffected and many have told us how continued access to carbon finance has helped build resilience by providing a much-needed social safety net during COVID, especially where access to traditional agricultural and forestry-based markets has been restricted. Despite the significant economic impact that we expect in the wake of COVID, there are still positive signs that the demand from the Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) for sustainable Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) is still there and even on the increase. With the Paris Agreement due to officially come into force in 2021, and the new US administration set to re-join, we are hopeful that the focus of the world will again return to how to achieve the ambitious target of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees. With the re-scheduled COP26 coming to Glasgow in November 2021, we have a unique opportunity, being Scottish based, to put the community agenda front and centre in these broader climate discussions and to ensure that communities and smallholders are framed as an integral part of the solution, rather than being the problem.

Looking forward, Plan Vivo’s strategic priorities for the next year are focused on three paths. Firstly, to continue to grow our project portfolio, in terms of both bringing new projects through the pipeline and also scaling-up the impact of existing projects. We are also looking to diversify our funding base by branching out, fostering new strategic partnerships in the international development and commercial sectors, while at the same time building on and leveraging the strong existing partnerships that we have with a range of key stakeholders in the voluntary carbon market. Given the skills, experience and knowledge we have developed over the last 25 years, we are ambitiously looking to broaden our roots, as we feel we are uniquely positioned to play a key facilitation role in the broader landscape, to champion the impact that community-led, bottom-up projects can have when well designed, supported and strategically linked to the broader, higher-level climate and development objectives.

To deliver this, we recognise we need to grow and develop. Towards this, we gathered some great ideas from your feedback at our s meeting in October 2019. Building on that, alongside strategic partnerships, we will also look to invest in professionalising our communications and marketing, to better express our key positions and widen our reach and impact. We have made a start with a newly revamped website and a new Annual Report, both of which we are launching in this newsletter. In response to partner and market needs, and taking advantage of technical development and innovation, we are currently working hard on a refresh of the Plan Vivo standard, led by the Secretariat and our recently expended Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). To ensure we can resource all of the above, the Board of Trustees are supporting an organisational development, as we grow the capacity of the operational team to deliver on our ambitious aspirations. In line with this, I am delighted to announce the addition of four new members of the team:

  • Douglas joined us back in June and is kindly volunteering his time to help us on a number of research topics, including measuring SDG impact.
  • In August, Cecilia came on board to help us with our Finance & Administration.
  • In October, Caroline joined as our new Projects Officer, so she will help Eva and Luke support our portfolio of live and pipeline projects.
  • Also in October, Carmen started as our Media & Communications Officer, and she is currently developing our brand-new communications strategy, which will include campaigns on ‘Stories from the Field’ and COP26.


Plan Vivo Stakeholder meeting 2019 group discussion

 Discussing the latest VCM matters at the 2019 stakeholder meeting


Together with Chris, who I’m delighted to say is staying on to advise on the carbon market, Kristin, who is continuing to support us on business development and partnerships, and myself, that takes the operational team up to nine people. We are also in the process of forming a new body, the Plan Vivo Steering Group, a representative subset of our stakeholders, who will advise the Secretariat and Board on strategic decisions, especially linked to positioning in the VCM.

So, despite the trails of 2020, at Plan Vivo, we recognise that we are fortunate enough to be in a position to continue to expand and support our network of projects across the world to increase their impact for Nature, Climate and Communities. On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone across the Plan Vivo network for all your hard work and support in 2020, this collaboration is what makes the impact possible. To all of you who celebrate it, I wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas. I very much look forward to meeting and working together with many of you in 2021 to develop and realise these exciting ideas and ambitions.

Stay well.