The NFS aims to conserve and restore natural forests through actions of projects that benefit both local communities and indigenous people while maintaining the biodiversity present in the project area.

The social and governance guidelines of the NFS draw upon the reporting requirements of the UN REDD Draft Guidance on Rights Holder Engagement, REDD+ Social & Environmental Standards, the draft UN-REDD Programme Guidelines on Free, Prior and Informed Consent, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, alongside practices and experiences of other carbon standards. Although not all of these documents are designed for projects at an equivalent scale to the NFS projects, the way that issues relevant to NFS projects are framed within these documents is relevant.

The NFS is designed for use by projects in publicly owned areas of natural forest ranging from municipalities to state-owned concessions. There is a high chance that these areas will be inhabited by local communities, including indigenous groups, as the majority of the world’s remaining natural forests in developing countries are located in ancestral and customary lands (UN-REDD Programme, 2011). To ensure that projects do not have negative impacts on people living within project areas or on those that have land use rights, and that the needs, rights and interest of these people are recognised by the project developments, the standard requires projects to apply the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent, and have an effective benefit distribution mechanism.

The project design document (PDD) and management plan should describe how the following social safeguards and benefit mechanisms will be put into practice.

Free Prior and Informed Consent

To fulfil the NFS requirement for FPIC of carbon rights holders, project developers and verifiers should consider how the definition of carbon rights holders and FPIC apply within the project area.

Definition: Carbon Rights Holders

Rights holders to carbon are individuals, institutions, groups or communities that have rights to the benefits (and liabilities) associated with carbon sequestration within a defined area. Where the ownership of carbon benefits is not legally defined, contractual mechanisms apportioning benefits shall be acceptable. This can be established without a formal legal framework, although a formal legal framework defining rights is preferable.

FPIC should be considered as a process rather than a one-time decision and projects should consider appropriate timeframes throughout the duration of the project for the review of any decisions or agreements to take account of any appropriate changes.

Definition:  Free, Prior and Informed Consent

FPIC is the right of indigenous peoples and communities to give or withhold their consent to developments that affect part of their territory. It describes the establishment of conditions under which indigenous people and communities can exercise their fundamental rights to “negotiate the terms of externally imposed policies, programs, and activities that directly affect their livelihoods or wellbeing, and to give or withhold their consent to them.”

Consent should be obtained prior to the commencement of project activities. In adhering to the principles of FPIC, project developers should consider the relevant social, cultural and environmental factors in the proposed project area.

Relevant factors should include identification of, and communication with, communities and indigenous groups affected by the proposed project or its activities; identification and understanding of decision making institutions used by these groups, land tenure, resource users and associated off-take. Consideration of any constraints that proposed project activities may have on such resource use should be made.

The project should assess the ability and capacity of rights holders to engage effectively in the negotiation of project development and benefit sharing activities. If the assessment finds that rights holders have insufficient capacity to engage effectively in the negotiation of project development and benefits sharing activities, the project should consider how to assist rights holders to develop this capacity.

Adhering to the principles of FPIC

The following points provide guidance on how projects can adhere to the principles of FPIC during the stages of project development:

(i) Preparation of negotiations with the carbon rights holders and affected communities:

  • Ensure that projects are developed in consultation with communities from the earliest planning stages and encourage community participation in project design and implementation.
  • Communicate transparently with local communities, making clear the steps in the process of project development at which community involvement and consent will be sought.
  • Ensure that any proposed changes in land use or management as a result of the project are clearly explained to the community/communities, including potential benefits and costs for forgoing existing or potential benefits from alternative management and use.
  • Seek to establish a climate of mutual respect, openness and trust in order to ensure that the process of seeking and obtaining consent is understood by all parties.
  • Ensure that relevant government agencies are informed about the project design phase and given details of how communities are involved.

(ii) The completion of negotiations:

  • Be sensitive of the right of indigenous people to use their own decision-making institutions and processes.
  • Ensure that consent is free from coercion and manipulation.
  • Work alongside communities, providing the skills necessary to engage effectively with the project, and assist them in make informed decisions about project activities.
  • Be alert to potential problems such as internal community divisions, the capture of resources by local elites or gatekeepers and unintentional negative consequences of access to new resources and technology.

(iii) The delivery of agreed terms:

  • Ensure that there is a sufficient time period incorporated into negotiations and agreements for consideration and “cooling-off”.
  • Ensure that there is a mechanism in place for dispute resolution.
  • Ensure that adequate timeframes are imposed.

Benefit Distribution Mechanism

The Standard requires projects to establish a mechanism that benefits local communities and that contributes to the sustainable management of ecosystems within the project area.

The benefit mechanism should be designed in consultation with local communities and relevant organisations, including as appropriate, government bodies.

The Standard recognises that the design, implementation and governance of this mechanism will be specific to projects, and will reflect the eligibility of stakeholders within the project area to make claims regarding the scale, timing and type of benefits accrued. The Standard is flexible in allowing for different approaches that projects may take to a benefit mechanism.

The development of a mechanism should be guided by the principles of free, prior, and informed consent. It should also be transparently and effectively administered to ensure that outputs are delivered on time and in appropriate quality. Details of which shall be outlined in the project management plan.

The benefit mechanism should be subject to periodic review and evaluation to assess the following:

  • Relevance – does it provide resources or inputs that are relevant to local needs and compatible with the conservation and restoration objectives of the project?
  • Effectiveness – did the deliverables arrive, were they satisfactory, did the benefits materialise?
  • Efficiency – is the benefit mechanism operating efficiently?

For example, the process of developing a benefit mechanism may involve:

Negotiation and agreement between a municipality, project stakeholders and the project developer to set the appropriate and proportional levels of the following criteria:

  • Portion of funds for developing a mechanism and proportion of funds going to create “benefit”.
  • Type of “mechanism” e.g. fund or funds, projects or programs.
  • Type of “benefits” e.g. cash, resources in kind, social infrastructure, training.
  • Ties to project activities e.g. activities that help the project to meet project objectives e.g. REDD.
  • National scale agreements on REDD and processes or systems adopted within the host country or local area.
  • Structures for the management, development and distribution of benefits. Including actors involved and rules regulating benefit mechanisms.
  • Monitoring and evaluation systems and processes.
  • Processes for complaints and disputes.


Good communication is important to help avoid minor issues escalating into serious problems.  The project should consider how to establish and maintain appropriate communication channels and methods to ensure that project stakeholders are made aware of, and have access to the project process. The communication channels should include appropriate mechanisms allowing for the exchange of project information and data, incorporate reporting on project progress, monitoring updates, and meetings to discuss satisfaction and hear grievances.

Dispute Resolution

To assist compliance with the NFS requirements on disputes, projects should establish a mechanism that ensures that issues are aired openly and transparently and that there is a go-to procedure, before communication becomes difficult or breaks down.

The mechanism, developed by the project, should seek to address concerns or complaints in a timely and transparent manner. Project level grievance mechanisms offer an alternative to dispute resolution processes but should include the possibility of independent arbitration, and recourse to legal or administrative remedies if negotiations do break down.

The project should ensure that stakeholders are made aware of, and have access to the process. The process should consider including grievance tracking and response systems, incorporating reporting on project progress at monitoring meetings to discuss satisfaction and hear grievances. If necessary the project should consider ensuring communities are informed about government adjudication channels and processes, and access to justice (provision of legal aid), if a situation arises and grievances cannot be resolved by the two parties without outside assistance.

Projects may draw upon already existing project level grievance processes. For example, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Dispute Resolution System gives a well-structured example of an established grievance mechanism including process for appeal, formal and informal dispute recourse. The example below highlights some of the principles projects may wish to consider when designing a grievance mechanism.

Five Principles in Designing a Grievance Mechanism

  • Proportionality – scaled to risk and adverse impact on affected communities.
  • Cultural Appropriateness – designed taking into account culturally appropriate ways of handling community concerns.
  • Accessibility – clear and understandable mechanism that is accessible to all segments of the affected communities at no cost.
  • Transparency and Accountability – for all stakeholders.
  • Appropriate Protection – a mechanism that prevents retribution and does not impede access to other remedies.


Forest Stewardship Council, 2009. FSC Dispute Resolution System. Available at:

International Finance Corporation, 2009. Good Practice Note Addressing Grievances from Project-Affected Communities: Guidance for projects and companies on designing grievance mechanisms.

United States Agency for International Development, 2011.REDD + and Carbon Rights: Lessons from the field. Property Rights and Resource Governance Project (PRRGP) Working Paper. Available at:

Forest Stewardship Council, 2009.FSC Dispute Resolution System. Available at:

International Finance Corporation, 2009. Good Practice Note Addressing Grievances from Project-Affected Communities: Guidance for projects and companies on designing grievance mechanisms. Available at: