in Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa

“Carbon forestry is privatizing, commodifying and financializing the world’s forests, recasting relations between state and market forest landscapes,” says Jesse Ribot, University of Illinois in a review of a new book.

Edited by Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa examines how carbon forestry projects are unfolding through case studies in seven countries in Africa.

In the first chapter of the book, Leach and Scoones write,

Forest carbon policies and projects are part of a more general move to address environmental problems through attaching market values to nature and ecosystems. Under the rubric of the ‘green economy’ and conserving ‘natural capital’, a variety of payment and offset mechanisms are becoming a dominant mode for environmental policy and action, including payments for ecosysstem services, and biodiversity and species offsets. Such commodification of environment and resources aligns with ‘neoliberal’ economic policies, in a particular phase of capitalism involving a combination of privatization, financialization and appropriation, and a recasting of the role of the state in environmental management. Forest carbon projects – often to date analysed in isolation – must be seen in this context.

Leach and Scoones note that as well as these market driven processes, forest carbon projects “must also be situated as part of lived-in landscapes”, which have “particular histories, embedded dynamic ecologies, social and property relations, livelihood practices, knowledge and understanding and above all, politics”.

The book is part of a project looking at “political ecologies of carbon in Africa”. Here’s a short video of Ian Scoones explaining this project. The contents of the book are below that, followed by the book’s preface:

  1. Political Ecologies of Carbon in Africa Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones
  2. Forest Carbon Projects and Policies in Africa Albert A. Arhin and Joanes Atela
  3. Climate Emergency, Carbon Capture and Coercive Conservation on Mt. Kilimanjaro Martin Kijazi
  4. Carbon in Africa’s Agricultural Landscapes A Kenyan Case Joanes Atela
  5. ‘Zones of Awkward Engagement’ in Ugandan Carbon Forestry Adrian Nel
  6. Implementing REDD+: Evidence from Kenya Joanes Atela
  7. Carbon Projects and Communities: Dynamic Encounters in Zambia Guni Mickels-Kokwe and Misael Kokwe
  8. Struggles over Carbon in the Zambezi Valley: The Case of Kariba REDD in Hurungwe, Zimbabwe Vupenyu Dzingirai and Lindiwe Mangwanya
  9. Farming Carbon in Ghana’s Transition Zone: Rhetoric versus Reality Ishmael Hashmiu
  10. Old Reserve, New Carbon Interests: The Case of the Western Area Peninsula Forest, Sierra Leone Thomas Winnebah and Melissa Leach

Carbon conflicts: the politics of tackling climate change through forest carbon projects

Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones, STEPS Centre, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Tackling climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our age. And this year is a crucial moment with the Conference of the Parties meeting in Paris in December 2015 to forge a new climate agreement. Forests, carbon and their management are high on the agenda, and a new book from the STEPS Centre and edited by Melissa Leach and Ian Scoones – Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa – dissects the issues, and points to ways forward.

Deforestation and land degradation globally contribute significantly to carbon emissions, and addressing these has become a major policy priority. Carbon offset approaches, mediated by carbon markets and facilitated by international accords and global climate finance, have become especially popular. In such schemes carbon emissions in one part of the world (usually the industrialised north) are offset by initiatives that reduce emissions in another part of the world where there are plentiful forests, and opportunities for new carbon sequestration (such as Africa). Such projects can, it is argued, additionally focus on poverty reduction and biodiversity protection, creating a ‘win-win’ scenario.

This is the theory. But what of the practice? This book is about what happens on the ground when carbon forestry projects – existing in various guises, often under the umbrella of the Reduced Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD Plus) programme – arrive. In this new field of environment and development practice, there are many new players, a whole panoply of models, processes and procedures for verification and monitoring, and a hot politics of authority and control. Understanding what works, and what doesn’t is crucial, and this book offers some salutary lessons on the feasibility and desirability of market-based offset approaches to carbon mitigation.

Through a series of detailed case studies from seven countries, from east, west and southern Africa, the chapters ask what actually happens when carbon forestry projects unfold in particular places: who wins, and who loses out, and what are the consequences – for carbon sequestration and offsetting, as well as poverty reduction? As all the cases show, carbon projects do not arrive on a blank slate. All sites have long histories of intervention, including a whole array of forestry, environmental protection and development projects. These have shaped and reshaped livelihoods and landscapes, and generated experiences and memories that influence local responses to new interventions.

The book’s case studies cover a wide range of African ecologies, project types and national political-economic contexts. The book asks: what difference does carbon make? What political and ecological dynamics are unleashed by these new commodified, marketized approaches, and how are local forest users experiencing and responding to them? Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected. Multiple conflicts have emerged between land owners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat, market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects not straightforward.

A new politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is emerging, making the noble aims of climate mitigation through carbon forestry very challenging. The book identifies the need to address conflicts head on, and to develop a more politically sophisticated approach to carbon governance in complex landscapes. The book thus provides a rich and compelling account of how and why carbon conflicts are emerging, and how they might be avoided in future. For all those engaged in the debates in the lead up to Paris and beyond, this book offers some sanguine insights and cautionary tales around the limits of market-based carbon forestry. However, it also points to ways forward that take account of the complex, layered politics of Africa’s forest landscapes.


LAUNCH DISCOUNT OFFER: Buy the book at a 20% discount – enter the code DC361 on the Routledge website.

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