AN INTERVIEW with Bernard Giraud on the launch of the new Livelihoods Carbon Fund (LCF3)

Bernard Giraud, Co-founder and President of the Livelihoods Funds, shares his views about the creation of the new Livelihoods Carbon fund (LCF3) and his 10-year experience implementing nature-based solutions with rural communities. He explains what are the ways forward to address the environmental, economic and social challenges of our times.

What motivates the launch of a new Livelihoods Fund?
Bernard Giraud October 2019
Bernard Giraud, President & Co-Founder of the Livelihoods Funds

Bernard Giraud: “Simply because there is an urgent need: climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, millions of poor rural communities struggling for their livelihood, or have to migrate to make a decent living. We are collectively responsible for the loss of the last hectares of primary forest and the degradation of huge areas of land that are misused. The consequences are increasingly understood and visible. The Livelihoods Funds’ mission is to contribute to a healthy and livable planet, protect or restore the natural capital we have inherited. And to design, implement solutions that benefit both people and nature for future generations.  This new fund will help accelerate the move.

Also, we observe a significant transition in the private sector and a strong interest from corporates but also from some financial investors to participate to this new Livelihoods Fund. The first Livelihoods Carbon Fund was created in 2011 after a few years of incubation and field experimentation within Danone, an international dairy and beverage company. From the beginning, it has been designed as a mutual fund between several companies. We started with a small group of visionary corporations that understood quite early that businesses would have a key role to play to limit the impacts of climate change and deeply transform their core value chains. Gradually, many others joined our funds. In 2017, a second carbon fund was created. Il will be entirely invested end of this year. This is why a third fund is being launched now to continue the journey and increase the impact of the Livelihoods Funds projects in the field.”

Why choosing “Livelihoods” to name a carbon fund? What is the relationship between “livelihood” and “carbon”?

B. Giraud: “In Livelihoods Funds projects, people are the main actors of the change. A key success factor is to develop and implement solutions which are improving both the livelihood of the communities and the environment. The rural communities we work with depend directly on the natural resources they live from:  for example, good farming practices that restore or maintain healthy soils with high levels of organic matter provide good crops and improve income. But they also sequestrate significant amounts of carbon with a positive impact on climate. Lively mangroves generate abundant fish and clam stocks that benefit coastal communities and they store huge volumes of carbon in the trees and in the soil.   On the opposite, soil erosion or deforestation release carbon, contribute to worsen climate change but also increase poverty. Livelihoods Funds model is about a comprehensive approach that creates synergies instead of opposing social and environmental action.”

The Livelihoods Carbon Funds help companies to “compensate” part of their CO2 emissions. But some criticize about “carbon compensation” that is described as a kind of “greenwashing”. What are your views about it?

 B. Giraud: “A clear priority for companies is to reduce their CO2 emissions within their value chain. It is a deep transformation process that is impacting gradually the ways products and services are designed, manufactured, and distributed. But companies need time to change fundamentally their business model and reach zero CO2 emissions. Carbon compensation is a complement, not a substitute to reduction.  Companies that invest in the Livelihoods Carbon funds are actively engaged in CO2 reduction with clear targets. They invest equity in a 24-year fund, taking some risks to pre-finance large scale projects. As a return, Livelihoods Fund provide them with carbon credits to offset the CO2 emissions they are unable to reduce yet. But more importantly, Livelihoods Fund investments contribute very concretely to improve land and the lives of rural communities. Since its creation 10 years ago, more than 1.5 million people have benefited from the Livelihoods projects and more than 130 million trees have been planted.  Instead of wasting time in never ending controversies, it would be more useful to encourage and multiply solutions to mitigate climate change”

What differentiates Livelihoods funds from other actors in carbon finance?

B. Giraud: “Our role is to accompany business partners and public institutions that have a long-term strategy of CO2 emission reduction. Unlike carbon traders making short term money through purchasing and selling of carbon credits, our role is to make long term investments in communities and help them moving towards more sustainable livelihoods. Every year, the Livelihoods funds measure and certify the carbon that is sequestered but they deliver carbon credits loaded with obvious social and ecological value to its investors. Carbon is a mean, not an end. In a booming carbon market with many actors coming in and fast-growing financial investments, there is a clear need for a set of norms that guarantee and differentiated the high quality of such carbon credits.”

Does Livelihoods directly implement projects in the field? What is your relationship with local organizations?

B. Giraud: “We work together with organizations who implement the projects in the field. They are long term partners with whom we have a strong relationship. Our approach is to carefully select partner NGOs, cooperatives or businesses with whom we share similar values and goals. Key criterias for us is their connection with local communities, the trust they have developed, their capacity to foster the change with them. Quite often, these are small local organizations but with a potential and a will to scale-up a model that works in the field. Our approach is to co-design the project along with our partners. Livelihoods Venture team is composed of 30 agronomists, foresters, carbon finance experts, etc. who share a common passion to drive positive change and have a strong field experience. It takes us several months, sometimes more than a year to structure a good project before we decide to invest. Once the project is launched, we stand by the side of our partners, monitoring and supporting them when challenges happen. We do not see us just as an investor that provide funding or carbon purchasing. But more as project partners embarked in the same journey.”

In “The Hands Restoring the Earth”, a book you published a few months ago, you tell many stories about Livelihoods projects in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. What are you the proudest of and what is your look towards the future?  

B.Giraud: Livelihoods’ action is a drop in the ocean. We would need 1,000, 10,000 Livelihoods Funds and many more to succeed in the transition. But it shows that it is still possible to turn things around. When a cyclone hit the Bengal coast of India very hard a few months ago, the thousands of hectares of mangroves that coastal communities restored with our support stopped the huge waves. The earthen dykes held like bio shields and protected the local communities. Salt water did not invade the rice fields as it had in the past. I feel a deep joy when I sit among fishermen who tell me about their catches of fish that breed in these mangroves. Or among small African farmers who have managed to stop the erosion that is taking away the fertility of the hills they cultivate. This is both a little and a lot to address our current global challenges. But It is a message of hope.”