“It Becomes Scientific…:” Carbon Accounting for REDD+ in Malawi
I present a case study of project planning meetings during which meticulous accounting procedures are used to convert social and ecological life into marketable carbon credits. This focus on the micro-processes of carbon credit production nuances the understanding of: (1) the politics involved in these calculations in small-scale interactions; (2) the particular mechanisms through which social and ecological life is made equivalent to carbon units, social actions, and other places across the globe; (3) how these equivalencies and quantifications co-constitute one another; and (4) how this process (re)imbues these objective numbers with a particular context that is generated from the nexus of local and cosmopolitan expertise. This process lends legitimacy to an otherwise imprecise set of accounting practices and translates social and ecological data into forms legible to transnational commodity markets and investors.
KeywordsClimate change Forests Africa Carbon offsets Redd+
Many thanks to Duncan, Cheri, Mike, and Elton for their input on this project. This research would not have been possible without the help and input from natural resource managers and people living in target communities in Malawi. Zikomo kwambili! Tawonga chomene! Thank you also to Cindy Isenhour and Jessica O’Reilley for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper, and to the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This research was supported by the U.S. Fulbright Program as well as Michigan State University’s Graduate School, Center for Gender in Global Context, Center for Advanced Study in International Development, African Studies Center, and the Department of Anthropology.
Conflict of Interests
After the conclusion of this research, the author served as a consultant for the TGC, contributing information on the history, culture, and biodiversity of the target areas for the project validation documents.
- Chave J., Condit R., Aguilar S., Hernandez A., Lao S., and Perez R. (2004). Error propagation and scaling for tropical forest biomass estimates. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences 359(1443): 409–420. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2003.1425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Chave J., Andalo C., Brown S., Cairns M. A., Chambers J. Q., Eamus D., and Fölster H. et al. (2005). Tree Allometry and estimation of carbon stocks and balance in tropical balance in tropical forests. Oecologia 145(1): 87–99. doi: 10.1007/s00442-005-0100-x.
- Checker, Melissa. 2009. Double jeopardy: carbon offsets and human rights abuses. Counter Punch, September 9. http://www.counterpunch.org/checker09092009.html.
- Department of National Parks and Wildlife (2004). Vwaza marsh wildlife reserve master plan, Lilongwe, Malawi.Google Scholar
- Günel G. (2012). A dark art: field notes on carbon capture and storage policy negotiations at COP 17, Durban. Ephemera 12(1/2): 33–41.Google Scholar
- Lansing D. M. (2013). Not all baselines are created equal: a Q methodology analysis of stakeholder perspectives of additionality in a carbon forestry offset project in Costa Rica. Global Environmental Change Part A: Human & Policy Dimensions 23(3): 654–663. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.02.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- O’Reilly J. (2015). Glacial dramas: typos, projections, and peer review in the fourth assessment of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. In Barnes J., and Dove M. R. (eds.), Climate cultures: anthropological perspectives on climate change, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 107–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sullivan S. (2009). Green capitalism and the cultural poverty of constructing nature as service provider. Radical Anthropology, no. 3: 18–27.Google Scholar
- Terra Global Capital (2010). Carbon accounting methodology for project activities that reduce emissions from mosaic deforestation and degradation. In San Francisco, Terra Global Capital, CA http://www.terraglobalcapital.com/sites/default/files/FINAL%20VCS%20REDD%20meth%20validation%203.pdf.Google Scholar
- Terra Global Capital and Total LandCare (2011). Kulera biodiversity project – Malawi: project design document for validation under the climate, Community & Biodiversity Standard – DRAFT. In San Francisco, Terra Global Capital and Total LandCare, CA http://www.terraglobalcapital.com/press/OMC%20CCB%20PD%20V4%20Sept%202012.pdf.Google Scholar
- Yocum H. M. (2013). The Price of Trees: Producing Carbon Commodities and Conservation in Malawi’s Protected Areas. Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University, East Lansing.Google Scholar
- Yocum, H. M. (2016). Equity Concerns during REDD+ planning and early implementation: a case from Malawi. In Fiske S., and Paladino S. (eds.), The Carbon Fix, Routledge, New York, pp. 238–253.Google Scholar