Embedding Carbon Markets: Complicating Commodification of Ecosystem Services in Mexico's Forests

Tracey Osborne, Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are increasingly employed to address a range of environmental issues, including biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, and climate change mitigation. PES initiatives have gained momentum since the 1990s, and market enthusiasts have promoted them as not only cost effective but generative of social and ecological co-benefits for local communities. Whereas the neoliberalization and commodification of nature has been well explored in geographic and critical scholarship, there is a dearth of theoretically informed, empirically grounded research exploring the dynamics and outcomes of the formation of “markets for nature.” Our study applies theories of commodification and embeddedness to examine these themes in comparative cases of two emergent markets for forest-based carbon offsetting initiatives in Mexico: Scolel Té in Chiapas and the Integrator of Indigenous and Campesino Communities of Oaxaca (ICICO). Although developed over similar time periods and in contiguous states, the two cases vary greatly in the degree to which carbon has been commodified and the markets embedded within the socionatural systems of the sites of production. Through detailed case studies, we demonstrate how interactions of these markets with preexisting social relations, institutions, and social and cultural values—the stuff of embeddedness—are critical for understanding the outcomes associated with markets for ecosystem services. We conclude that greater embeddedness is likely to lead to more positive local outcomes but that the embedding of forest-based carbon markets requires considerable time and extensive networks of nonmarket support and is furthermore dependent on the structure and orientation of finance and the political, institutional, and economic agrarian context of the sites of production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-105
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018


  • Mexico
  • carbon markets
  • commodification and neoliberalization of nature
  • embeddedness
  • payments for ecosystem services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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