Cool Earth

Charity based in Cornwall, UK, working with teams around the world to enhance livelihoods so that rainforest communities earn more from keeping their trees standing than from cutting them down. The focus is on protecting trees that are already there, areas that are under direct threat from logging.

We found out about Cool Earth through reading an article written through the effective altruism organisation, Giving What We Can.

We skyped Buffy Smith, fundraising manager, to learn more about the approach they take.

The model:

  1. Communities come to Cool Earth (usually word of mouth from others Cool Earth are working with). This is in response to loggers who are offering money to the community and exerting pressure to rush the community towards a decision to sell the forest to be logged.
  2. 1-2 years are spent getting to know each other to work out if Cool Earth and the community in question are right for each other – ensuring the whole community are on board, everything is well understood and they have a shared commitment.
  3. If yes, an agreement is signed where the community commit to protecting their trees (i.e. not cutting them down or allowing others to do so, with the exception of meeting their community needs for shelter etc), for the duration of the agreement. Occasionally an initial cash injection is also provided, when the community have immediate needs.
  4. Cool Earth invest money to support livelihood development in order to help communities earn more from keeping the forest standing than the money that the loggers would give them. The money is controlled by the community, and provided with guidance, training and support by Cool Earth.
  5. The community set up an association. Cool Earth require that the people forming the association are fairly elected, include representatives of women and young people, have re-elections every 2 years, and share their skills with the whole community. An office is built so they have the resources needed for management.
  6. The association are supported to:
    • reach self sufficiency in 5-7 years – livelihood development. For example, growing sustainable coffee and cacao, developing local trade routes and building roads and infrastructure to support this, supporting women’s handicrafts for selling.
    • Monitor their forests – forest watch teams are created to carry out camera trapping, record changes in forest health, and carry out community outreach and education to increase value placed on forest.
    • Manage their money, budget effectively etc.
  7. The UK team visit projects about once per year to support capacity building efforts. The country teams visit about once a month.
  8. Towards the end of the 5-7 years, Cool Earth slowly reduce the money provided, aiming to exit after 10 years when the community have a well established self-sustaining model.
  9. Cool Earth stay in touch with the community on an ongoing basis.


How do you calculate how much deforestation you prevent?

Forest health and protection is monitored locally by the community, checked regularly by country teams when they visit, and verified remotely by GIS maps. Comparisons are made between areas protected by the communities Cool Earth work with and the surrounding forest. In Peru forest loss was 23% outside and 0.5% inside. From this Cool Earth can estimate how much co2 is saved from avoided deforestation.

How do you define a ‘community’?

A community may be a tribe or a number of different villages. It depends on the context e.g. in Peru the Ashaninka all define themselves as part of the same tribe, made up of around 100 villages, covering 170,000 acres of rainforest. In Papua New Guinea, Cool Earth are currently working with two different communities, made up of 16 villages, who are geographically close but have different identities. Cool Earth are currently determining what works and what doesn’t here as clan ties can cause frictions. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cool Earth partner with Fauna and Flora International to support the Lubutu people, made up of around 5 villages (villages are much larger in DRC so this is over 3500 people) villages.

What are your future plans?

Cool Earth is currently in the first 1-2 year time period of talking with several new communities, to expand their impact.

Cool Earth are currently taking stock (the organisation is now ten years old), looking at what works and what doesn’t to make sure as they move forwards their work amplifies positive impacts and minimises and avoids any unintended consequences.

They haven’t yet exited a community so the next 3-4 years will be interesting to see how the model plays out at the exit stage.  It will be interesting to see whether communities really can then ‘go it alone’ and continue to see that the trees provide greater value standing than cut down. This is both in terms of monetary value and the values promoted through the education outreach that has been done.

When the model is proven the aim is to make it open source so that other charities can use it too to help turn the tide against deforestation.

Leave a Comment