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Unconditional Cash Transfers

Can a basic income for people living in the rainforest halt the climate crisis?

Delivering no-strings cash to the people fighting deforestation isn’t an easy fix, it’s a smart one.


Cool Earth is embarking on an innovative project to establish a cash transfer programme that will provide a basic income to rainforest villages in the three largest tropical forests; the Amazon, Congo Basins and New Guinea.

Our goal? To provide the evidence needed to scale this approach as a viable method of climate change mitigation and an effective tool to counter the marginalisation of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Cash, rainforest and people.

Rainforests are essential carbon sinks. Their preservation is critical to mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity, and supporting the livelihoods of 805 million people around the world.

Whilst Indigenous peoples and local communities comprise less than 5% of the world’s population, they manage at least 25% of the planet’s land surface and protect an estimated 80% of global biodiversity.

Despite this, Indigenous peoples and local communities receive less than 1% of all development funding to address climate change. Worse still, their contribution to the protection of Earth’s most vital resources and climate mitigation has been effectively ignored.

Cool Earth exists to change this.

What are unconditional cash transfers?

It’s a cash payment, delivered periodically to people in the communities we work in irrespective of age, gender, status or wealth and, most importantly, it’s unconditional. Cool Earth does not need or expect anyone to share what is being done with the money. 

How will Cool Earth deliver unconditional cash transfers?

The first phase of the project will aim to implement three two-year pilots in the Amazon, Congo and New Guinea rainforests. These pilots will test the concept of unconditional cash transfers as a locally implementable programme that fully adheres to the highest standards of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Most importantly, it will assess how our partners view such this type of support and if they address the participant’s needs and priorities for a thriving future in the rainforest.

The second phase, to be developed in parallel, aims to link participants with independent researchers to test and deliver proof that the model is ethical, successful and sustainable.

Combining this with the learnings from phase one, phase three will see replication of the model across additional rainforest villages to demonstrate that the delivery of a BI is an equitable and cost-effective approach to ensuring rainforest remains healthy and a resource for the community, as it always has been.

Delivering a basic income is a new approach to rainforest protection and is a step forward in addressing climate injustice.

Scalability and potential of cash transfers.

Ultimately, the findings from this project will help shape an advocacy strategy to convince others to use this approach at scale to halt deforestation. By creating new alliances in the climate community and beyond we will make sure that it is scaled up far beyond Cool Earth’s ability to deliver alone.

We won’t solve forest degradation and the climate crisis if we don’t put human agency, dignity, freedom and rights at the centre of everything we do.

Proof in the people

New research and reports show what we have been saying for over a decade; that lands managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities have lower rates of deforestation compared to other forest management types (i.e. protected areas, non-indigenous territories, tree plantations). Put simply, without the presence of people, rainforests will likely disappear rapidly.

Cool Earth resources.

In this section, we will compile our findings from our unconditional cash projects. We predict a variety of findings because each village and each person has different needs, priorities and visions for a thriving future.

These articles reflect the ever-evolving dynamics, subtleties and realities of the rainforest, so undoubtedly at times will contradict and challenge the previous iteration.

Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCTs) for Rainforest Protection strategy (February 2022)

Internal intellectual context & rationale for cash giving (2021)

Does cash lead to conservation? An exploration of the views of conservation professionals on the use of cash giving for environmental protection (Callum Sheehan, 2021, MSc dissertation – collaboration between Cool Earth and the University of Leeds)

Can a basic income for people who live in the rainforest save the rainforest? – Abstract for conferences (2022)

Review of cash giving in Peru 2008-2020 (2021)

The sun rises over misty Amazonian forest.

Cash creates choice, choice means rainforest protected

We won’t solve forest degradation and the climate crisis if we don’t put human agency, dignity, freedom and rights at the centre of everything we do.