Producing Carbon Credits – How to conserve a forest in Cambodia and sell it in Finland?

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Title: Producing Carbon Credits – How to conserve a forest in Cambodia and sell it in Finland?
Author: Isomäki, Noora
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Yhteiskunnallisen muutoksen maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Society and Change
Magisterprogrammet för samhälle i förändring
Specialisation: Kehitysmaatutkimus
Development Studies
Abstract: Carbon markets form a fundamental part of green economy, that is supposed to bring the world out of climate crisis, while maintaining economic growth and human well-being. This thesis contributes to the critical research on the green economy assumptions and draws from the political-ecological literature. It explores voluntary carbon markets with qualitative methods, through a case study of a production chain of carbon credits starting from their production in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia and ending in their buying and re-sale by the Compensate foundation in Finland. The focus of the analysis are the representations needed to create supply and demand for the carbon credit, and their effects. The thesis examines the complexity of commodification of carbon credits. Carbon offsets rely on highly technical auditing schemes. To produce carbon credits with forestry projects, the project developers must describe a “baseline”. The baseline describes a threat, which the relevant area is facing, and the conservation organization can tackle. I analyse how the representations of the threat make the conservation area governable and justify intervention and how they, at the same time, are unable to include the wider context, so they leave important drivers of deforestation unaddressed and instead target small-scale activities of individuals and local communities. Similarly, I show how in order to sell such carbon credits, climate change must be represented as a problem that can be solved by individual climate action of responsible consumers rather than as a systemic problem. As an effect, both the production and sale of carbon credits have a strong focus on targeting individuals at the expense of leaving broader societal structures unaddressed. This thesis highlights that the global North’s ability and moral justification to continue high-carbon lifestyles through offsets, requires people living in the global South to change their livelihoods and environments. Even if the communities in the conservation areas have some power to impact the ways the offset project operates, the level of optionality is much lower than in the global North, where the consumer is only subtly nudged to offset the distant damage they do. This approach is generally justified based on orientalist and neo-colonial discourses, according to which the people of the global South are unable to take care of their environments – and even themselves. The fact that no changes are demanded from the people of the global North and no existing power structures or practices are challenged arguably increases the desirability of the carbon markets as the major climate solution. This, however, also makes it justified to call carbon markets a non-transformative climate solution.
Subject: Cambodia
carbon markets
carbon offsets
green economy
political ecology

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