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What is Carbon? Conceptualising carbon and capabilities in the context of community sequestration projects in the global South

Twyman, C., Smith, T. and Arnall, A. ORCID: (2015) What is Carbon? Conceptualising carbon and capabilities in the context of community sequestration projects in the global South. WIREs Climate Change, 6 (6). pp. 627-641. ISSN 1757-7799

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1002/wcc.367


Carbon has been described as a ‘surreal commodity’. Whilst carbon trading, storage, sequestration and emissions have become a part of the contemporary climate lexicon, how carbon is understood, valued and interpreted by actors responsible for implementing carbon sequestration projects is still unclear. In this review paper, we are concerned with how carbon has come to take on a range of meanings, and in particular, we appraise what is known about the situated meanings that people involved in delivering, and participating in, carbon sequestration projects in the global South assign to this complex element. Whilst there has been some reflection on the new meanings conferred on carbon via the neoliberal processes of marketisation, and how these processes interact with historical and contemporary narratives of environmental change, less is known about how these meanings are (re)produced and (re)interpreted locally. We review how carbon has been defined both as a chemical element and as a tradable, marketable commodity, and discuss the implications these global meanings might have for situated understandings, particularly linked to climate change narratives, amongst communities in the global South. We consider how the concept of carbon capabilities, alongside theoretical notions of networks, assemblages and local knowledges of the environment and nature, might be useful in beginning to understand how communities engage with abstract notions of carbon. We discuss the implications of specific values attributed to carbon, and therefore to different ecologies, for wider conceptualisations of how nature is valued, and climate is understood, and particularly how this may impact on community interactions with carbon sequestration projects. Knowing more about how people understand, value and know carbon allows policies to be better informed and practices more effectively targeted at engaging local populations meaningfully in carbon-related projects.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Walker Institute
Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of International Development
ID Code:42057


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