A view of mountainous jungle terrain with no human habitation in sight.
View over Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.

Markets for REDD+ Projects and the Prospect of Sustainable Financing for Protected Areas

Views from the Keo Seima REDD+ Project, Cambodia
By Colin Moore

The Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia, is the first sustainably financed protected area in Cambodia. This blog explains the market dynamics and project features that make this site an attractive proposition for voluntary carbon markets. 

In 2019, voluntary carbon markets transacted more volume than in any year since 2010. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 appears to be another year for the record books. Within this market, projects that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) are the most popular; they receive the highest prices and represent the largest share of the $320 million market value.



A monkey hanging in a tree with a baby hanging from its belly looks at the camera.
A southern yellow-cheeked gibbon. The Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary contains the largest global population of this ape.

Driving this growth are the increasing number of carbon-neutral or Paris-aligned pledges that companies are making. These pledges commit companies to measurably reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and “offset” residual, unavoidable emissions. This is an encouraging trend. Private finance is needed to fill the current annual funding gap of $350 billion required to safeguard nature and meet Paris Agreement targets.

The dynamics described above are playing out at Cambodia’s Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary (KSWS) REDD+ project, offering valuable insights into the features that attract private capital. 


A group of men in a hut raise their right hands together and smile at the camera.
Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary target community meeting.

The KSWS REDD+ project is a joint initiative of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Since 2010, the KSWS REDD+ project has successfully prevented over 21,000 hectares of deforestation, generated 14.6 million carbon credits, protected 55 globally threatened species, and supported improved livelihoods for upwards of 12,000 people.   

The project’s first ten years of operations were primarily supported by grant funding - including USAID’s Supporting Forests and Biodiversity and Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests projects and Keo Seima Conservation projects, as well as the occasional carbon credit sale. Funding levels were often insufficient or irregular, limiting the ability to implement the full range of necessary conservation actions. However, a recent surge in credit sales has injected significant funds, sufficient to operate the site for at least five years, even while greatly increasing the scope and intensity of the project’s interventions and direct community investments. 

Key factors that have attracted private finance to the site include the following:

  • Application of high-quality standards to quantify emission reductions. The project is registered and regularly verifies its emission reductions under the Verified Carbon Standard, the leading voluntary carbon accounting standard, giving buyers confidence in the quality of the project’s credits. 
  • Strong delivery of co-benefits. The project certifies the delivery of positive community and biodiversity benefits through the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards. Being able to communicate positive social contributions of their investment is important to buyers. Therefore, they particularly value the project’s strong engagement with the target communities, the range of livelihood improvements delivered, and their direct participation in the REDD+ revenues.
  • Equitable and transparent benefit sharing, especially with communities. The project’s benefit sharing mechanism clearly identifies how REDD+ revenues are distributed across project operating costs, the Ministry of Environment, communities, and an operating reserve. Buyers appreciate the transparency of the mechanism and the particularly generous contributions to local communities; it confirms the centrality of this stakeholder group to the project’s success and impacts. 
  • Presence of a trusted counterparty. WCS’s co-management role in the project gives buyers assurances that best-practice standards in project management, risk mitigation, and monitoring are adhered to, thus reducing potential reputational risks of being associated with the project.
  • Alignment with national Greenhouse Gas emissions accounting. Cambodia is a global leader in developing the regulatory and technical frameworks to align project and national level greenhouse gas emissions accounting in the land and forestry sector, providing buyers additional assurances of the project’s alignment with national REDD+ strategies and contributions to the NDC.  

WCS and USAID – through the Greening Prey Lang project – are now replicating this model in Cambodia’s Northern Plains landscape, integrating the elements listed above and targeting the same sustainable finance outcome already achieved in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.

Strategic Objective
Biodiversity, Carbon, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation (REDD+), Forestry, Private Sector Engagement
Colin Moore headshot

Colin Moore

Wildlife Conservation Society

Colin is a seasoned technical, policy and market expert in the design, implementation, monitoring and marketing of REDD+ projects and programs. His professional experience spans Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia, supporting governments, private sector companies and public sector organizations through collaborative engagements to deliver positive climate, biodiversity and social benefits at scale. Currently the Business and Conservation Advisor under the Mekong Drivers Partnership Program, Colin leads WCS's engagement with private sector partners and market-based initiatives to deliver green growth business models in key sectors driving landscape change and forest loss in the Mekong region.


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