Plan Vivo System

Currently active program focusing on co-benefits in land-use projects. New version of the standard under development (as of 1/2011).

Market Size and Scope
Offset Project Eligibility
Additionality Requirements and Project Methodologies
Project Approval Process


Type of Standard and Context

Plan Vivo is an Offset Project Method for land-use projects with a focus on promoting sustainable development and improving rural livelihoods and ecosystems. Plan Vivo projects work closely with rural communities and the system and standard emphasizes participatory design, ongoing stakeholder consultation, and the use of native species. The Plan Vivo Foundation certifies and issues ex-ante and ex-post offsets, although project developers can choose to sell ex-post offsets. Ex-ante offsets are offsets that will occur in the future, ex-post offsets are emissions reductions that have already occurred and usually have been verified a third-party auditor.

The Plan Vivo System originated in 1994 as a research project in southern Mexico, which aimed to develop a framework enabling smallholders to engage in carbon sequestration activities through accessing funds from carbon markets. The system was developed by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management (ECCM), a consulting company that focuses on climate change mitigation strategies and policies, in partnership with El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), the University of Edinburgh and other local organizations with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Standard Authority and Administrative Bodies

Plan Vivo is currently managed by the Plan Vivo Foundation (formerly BioClimate Research and Development), a Scottish charity focused on environmental improvement and poverty reduction. The Foundation reviews and registers projects according to the Plan Vivo Standard, issues Plan Vivo Certificates annually following the submission and approval of each project’s annual report, and acts as overall ‘keeper’ of the Plan Vivo System which is periodically reviewed in consultation with projects and other stakeholders. It also approves third-party validators and verifiers and registers resellers of Plan Vivo Certificates. The Plan Vivo Foundation also occasionally conducts field visits to projects to monitor their progress and use lessons and experiences to update the Plan Vivo system as required.

Project Developers: Plan Vivo projects are managed by locally based NGOs who function as project developers (‘project coordinators’). They coordinate sales with carbon buyers, coordinate continued monitoring and community consultation and administer staged payments for ecosystem services to project participants based on achieved ‘monitoring targets’.

Third Party Auditors: Auditors have to be approved by Plan Vivo and must be accredited by an international certification authority such as the CDM, ISO 14064, Climate Action Reserve, FSC or other forestry certification programs. Auditors conduct project verification.

Regional Scope

Plan Vivo currently has six registered projects. These projects are located in Mexico, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nicaragua.  Several other projects in Africa, South America and Asia are at various stages of approval.

Recognition of Other Standards/ Linkage with Other Trading Systems

Plan Vivo does not currently work in conjunction with other standards although projects can choose to also get certified through the CCBS.

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Market Size and Scope

Tradable Unit and Pricing Information

Plan Vivo certifies ex-ante credits. They are called Plan Vivo Certificates, and represent the future avoidance or reduction of one ton of CO2 plus livelihood and ecosystem benefits. Ex-post credits are also accepted under Plan Vivo but currently all projects produce ex-ante credits.As of January 2011, almost 1 million such credtis have been issued.

Prices range from USD 6-15 per ton of CO2.


Buyers of Plan Vivo Certificates are companies and individuals.

Current Project Portfolio

Plan Vivo currently has five registered projects (in Mexico, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nicaragua) and several more are in various stages of development.  A current list can be viewed on the Plan Vivo Projects page.

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Offset Project Eligibility

Project Types

Plan Vivo accepts the following project types:

  • afforestation and reforestation;
  • agroforestry; forest restoration; and
  • avoided deforestation and forest conservation.

Other project types may be approved int he future, as long as they can deliver long-term carbon benefits, livelihood improvements, community involvement and ecosystem benefits.

Project Locations

Plan Vivo projects are located in developing countries.

Project Size

There is no minimum or maximum size limitation for Plan Vivo projects. Projects generally expand in size over a number of years as the project makes more sales and more smallholders or communities engage in the project, learn more about the notion of selling carbon as a commodity, and see it working in practice. The current Plan Vivo projects range in size from a carbon offset potential of 40,000 tCO2/ yr to 277,500 tCO2/yr.

Start Date 

No specific start date is specified.

Crediting Period

The exact payment schedule varies with each project, but normally involves payments over periods of 10–15 years. Carbon benefits are calculated over a 25-100 year timeframe, considerably beyond the payment period.

In the new version of the standard Plan Vivo will no longer accept 100 yr crediting periods. The maximum will be 50 years. De-coupling of payment and crediting periods will only allowed where the project can demonstrate how the activity will be sustainable beyond the payment period (e.g. by the end of the payment period, other income streams will be in place – fruits yielded, local market for fuel wood, increased crop productivity etc).

Co-benefit Objectives and Requirements

Plan Vivo’s focus is on improving the livelihoods of the rural poor and building capacity in developing countries to enable sustainable land-management. The Plan Vivo Standard requires that all its projects provide additional benefits to the local environment and community through the development of sustainable land-use systems that meet local needs, planting of native species, and promotion of improved livelihoods through diversification of income sources.

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Additionality Requirements and Project Methodologies

Additionality Requirements

Projects must go beyond regulatory requirements. Furthermore, Plan Vivo excludes commercial land-use initiatives likely to have been economically viable in their own right without payments for ecosystem services. Additionality must be demonstrated through an analysis of the barriers to implementing activities in the absence of the project. These could include, for example, lack of finances, lack of technical expertise or prohibitive political or cultural environments. In most cases, only native species, which are unlikely to be planted without financial incentives in many countries where seedlings are difficult to find, may be planted. Commercial forestry projects are excluded from participation.

Project Methodologies

Projects can adopt existing, approved methodologies or develop their own and submit them for peer review.

Baselines are calculated at the project level and also modeled at the regional scale. Carbon sequestration potential, for the sale of ex-ante credits, is calculated on a per hectare basis over a 25-100 (50 in the new draft version of the standard) year time frame using information on the management regime, growing conditions, proposed species, growth rates, and proposed planting densities.
Technical specifications which describe the methodologies for and carbon potential of each land use system (e.g. boundary planting, mixed species woodlot etc.) are developed by projects and reviewed as part of the validation process and by peer reviewers. All existing technical specifications are available in the project pages of the Plan Vivo website.

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Project Approval Process

Validation and Registration

Projects must first register a Project Idea Note (PIN), which involves a desk review of the project’s eligibility and long-term viability. The project developer must describe the proposed project area and proposed activities and identify its sustainable development aims in consultation with the communities. Projects can be registered as Plan Vivo projects once they have:

1. A Plan Vivo Foundation-approved set of technical specifications used for describing land-use activities, carbon accounting, prescribing risk and other management activities and monitoring indicators; contain analyses of leakage, additionality and permanence.

2. A Plan Vivo Foundation-approved Project Design Document which describes project governance and systems for evaluating and monitoring Plan Vivo projects, administering payments and community-led planning

3. Been validated by an expert reviewer chosen by Plan Vivo which involves an independent review of project documents and a field visit.


Leakage at individual plot level

To minimize leakage in smallholder activities (i.e. where rural smallholders have agreements to plant trees on their land), each producer must show that they are not reducing their agricultural output below sustainable levels. In other words, a Plan Vivo project will not be registered unless the producer can live sustainably from its land under the plan, and has identified management objectives beyond receiving carbon payments (e.g. sustainable timber production, fruits or other non-timber products, agro-forestry).

Leakage at project level

Leakage is assessed for each land-use activity in the technical specifications, with consideration given to local and regional trends, identifying potential leakage risks and mechanisms for controlling them. Unavoidable leakage must be estimated and deducted in the quantification of carbon credits.


Carbon benefits and the resulting credits are calculated over a 25-100 year timeframe (50 years in the new draft version of the standard) , considerably beyond the payment period which is between 10-15 years. The Plan Vivo System uses the following provisions to counteract the risk of non-permanence:

  • Projects are initially assessed for their long-term viability, taking into account issues such as the organizational capacity and experience of all partners involved and the stability of the area.
  • Producers selling carbon through the Plan Vivo System must enter into long-term sale agreements
    (contracts) with the in-country project coordinator, who ensures that payments are made following monitoring against measurable and realistic goals.
  • Producers must hold land tenure agreements (or community concession or similar usufruct rights) to demonstrate long-term ownership of land.
  • All producers are under obligation to re-plant where trees die, for example from disease or extreme weather events, or if they are harvested for timber.
  • Projects are internally monitored by Plan Vivo through the approval of annual reports and site visits.
  • Each project maintains an unsold reserve of carbon credits called a risk buffer. The level of the risk buffer is set by the Plan Vivo Foundation according to it risk assessment of the project (normally 10-20%). The aim of the risk buffer is to cover any unexpected shortfall in carbon credits supplied to purchasers (for example, due to extreme weather events, inaccuracies in baseline assumptions or producers defaulting on sale agreements).
  • Projects must undertake third-party verification at least every 5 years.

Monitoring, Verification and Certification

Each project must develop its own internal Monitoring Protocol based on the monitoring of indicators prescribed in the project’s technical specifications. Specific requirements for each producer are set out in their individual sale agreements with the project coordinator. For example, a producer may receive 20% of the total payment after completing 50% of planting, and a further 10% after one year provided they have completed 100% of the planting.

Internal project monitoring is conducted throughout the crediting period by local technicians based on the protocol and indicators identified in the technical specifications approved by the Plan Vivo Foundation during project validation. All projects must conduct and submit annual reports to the Plan Vivo Foundation using the standard Plan Vivo Annual Reporting Template. This report contains a full update of the project’s status and development, including sales and payments that have been made, the results of monitoring, and outcomes of consultations. The Plan Vivo Foundation reviews each annual report and issues Plan Vivo Certificates after approval of the report. Approval of annual reports may be qualified by imposing corrective actions if the report shows the project failed to act in full compliance with the Plan Vivo System or Plan Vivo principles. The Foundation may choose to follow up corrective actions with site visits where it is deemed necessary. The local project coordinators monitor the work of each individual farmer and pay them when they are found to have reached their targets. The exact payment schedule varies with each project, but normally involves periodic monitoring and payments over periods of 10–15 years.

Projects are independently validated against the Plan Vivo Standard, and must undertake third-party verification within 5 years of registration as well as at least every 5 years thereafter.

Registries and Fees

Plan Vivo Certificates are issued, tracked and retired on an on-line registry independently managed by Markit Environmental Registry (formerly TZ1). Each Certificate has a unique serial number which can be traced back to the project and exact producer, which ensures there is no double-counting of carbon credits.

Getting a project registered, reviewed and approved with Plan Vivo costs approximately US$10,000.  This estimate may vary slightly depending on costs of travel and expert reviewers, but should not exceed $12,500.  The Foundation charges Certificate issuance fees of $0.35 per tonne, which includes a $0.05 fee for maintaining the registry.

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