Which “fairness”, for whom, and why? Broadening inputs for a standard designed to certify “fairtrade carbon credits”

Produced as part of the Advancing climate finance and investment CCCEP research programme theme

Carbon projects are often complex, contested and shrouded by concerns about fairness, particularly regarding the involvement and sharing of benefits to local communities and smallholders. Fairtrade International’s collaborative efforts to develop a standard to certify Fairtrade Carbon Credits (FCCs) warrants careful analysis of the multiple and competing notions of fairness, how to achieve it and for which beneficiaries. This paper uses a theoretical equity framework combined with Q methodology to elicit three distinct perspectives on fairness visible across the stakeholders involved in developing the standard. The first prioritises development delivered through organisations, participation in decision-making and use of minimum prices to adjust trade imbalances. The second conceptualises a non-exclusive approach maximising generation and sales of FCCs, involving a commodity chain where everyone performs their optimum function with financial transparency and information-sharing to facilitate negotiations. The third involves minimising intervention, allowing carbon commodity chains and project set-ups to function efficiently and make their own adjustments to enhance benefits access and quality received by beneficiaries. The three factors reflect debates within carbon and fair trade spheres about who should be doing what, for which reasons, and how people should be supported to interact on an uneven playing field. Communicating findings to standards organisations should enable a more open and inclusive policy process. Clearer definitions of “fairness” are also useful for standards organisations in reviewing ex post whether “fairness” goals have been met.