Tradeoffs in carbon commodification: A political ecology of common property forest governance

Tracey Osborne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Carbon markets have gained traction worldwide as an ostensibly win-win solution to climate change, providing low-cost emission reductions in the Global North and sustainable development in the Global South. However, sustainable development and livelihood co-benefits have largely failed to materialize in a range of carbon offset projects, particularly those in forest communities. While some scholars explain this failure as an outcome of fundamental tradeoffs between market efficiency and sustainable development, others argue that institutions of common property land tenure can resolve tradeoffs and generate important co-benefits for local communities. Using a political ecology approach, integrating insights of Karl Polanyi and Noel Castree on the commodification of nature and evidence from a carbon forestry project in Chiapas, Mexico, this article grapples with the ways in which carbon market requirements shape forest governance within common property tenure arrangements. I argue that the centralization of forest governance and decision making into the hands of project implementers and brokers, the necessity for legible land rights and boundaries, and the technical requirements for measurement, calculation, and monitoring of carbon have reshaped forest governance in ways that have undermined the social and ecological benefits often associated with common property management schemes. This research therefore demonstrates that so-called tradeoffs between market efficiency and equitable sustainable development goals may not be inherent to carbon forestry and calls into question the reliance on disembedding market mechanisms for climate change mitigation in forest ecosystems. As such, this work has important implications for REDD+.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-77
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Carbon market
  • Carbon offsets
  • Commodification of nature
  • Forest governance
  • Mexico
  • Political ecology
  • REDD+

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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