The baselines scenario for a project is the description of land use and cover at the start of a project intervention, and how it is expected to change if no intervention takes place. This must include sufficient detail for baseline emissions and removals to be estimated over the period that benefits are being recorded.
The Plan Vivo Standard does not require a specific approach for describing a baseline scenario, but it must include:
- A narrative description of the baseline scenario.
- A justification for why it is the most likely of all credible alternatives.
- Evidence, such as reference to published documents or project analysis (e.g. interviews, field studies, satellite image analyses).
- A clear outline of the geographical area that the baseline scenario applies to, through the inclusion of maps.
The recommended scope of a baseline depends on the type of project intervention:
- Interventions in small-holder agricultural areas – The baselines scenario should often be a continuation of current land use practices.
- Interventions which aim to increase carbon stocks in vegetation and/or soil, and which will expand over time – The baseline scenarios should be applicable to all areas where intervention(s) will be carried out.
- Interventions which aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by preventing ecosystem conversion or degradation – A baseline scenario that applies to a specific, delimited, project area, is often required. This may be informed by past patterns of land use change in the surrounding landscape.
More than one scenario can be included if a single baseline scenario does not apply to all potential project areas, but the area of applicability must be clearly stated for each, including the scope of biophysical conditions and other requirements (applicability conditions).
A barrier analysis can often be useful for describing and justifying a baselines scenario:
- Create a list of land use scenarios that could occur without project intervention. Approaches could include conducting field surveys, assessing historical changes through land use and land cover maps, and gathering information directly from communities and other stakeholders.
- Carry out a barrier analysis to identify which alternative land use scenarios are applicable (ruling out those prevented by legal regulations or other barriers – see the Plan Vivo Approved Approach – Additionality).
- If more than one potential scenario remains, the baseline scenario adopted should either be the one with the highest greenhouse gas removals or lowest emissions, or the option that would generate the greatest income for the community.