Scientific References

Last changed: 22 February 2023

Below is a list of key references used to produce this guide with a short summary provided under each reference. The references are listed here under the five headings of the themes in the guide, but some references are valid for several themes. The final heading lists references to the statement that “carbon offsetting is seriously questioned by science”.

Understanding the local context

Adrian Nel & Douglas Hill (2013) Constructing walls of carbon – the complexities of community, carbon sequestration and protected areas in Uganda, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 31:3, 421-440, DOI: 10.1080/02589001.2013.802430

In short: The paper shows how carbon forestry plantation projects in Uganda that do not take the politics of land and other resources into account (personal interests, conflicting views, power relations, nepotism etc.) caused conflict and increased the marginalization of local communities.


Engström L and Hajdu F (2019) “Conjuring ‘Win-World’ – Resilient Development Narratives in a Large-Scale Agro-Investment in Tanzania.” Journal of Development Studies. 55 (6) 1201-1220. DOI:10.1080/00220388.2018.1438599

In short: This article discusses how project proponents’ lack of understanding of the local people and environment produce recurring project cancellations and negative impacts on local communities. It shows why it is important that project proponents have in-depth knowledge and understanding about the area and communities, and that they take seriously issues of participation, power relations and risk taking by local people. Discusses why it is problematic that the main project proponent stands to gain from the project.


Ferguson, J. (1994). The anti-politics machine:" development," depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. University of Minnesota Press.

In short: Ferguson analyses the World Bank’s agricultural policy in Lesotho in the 1980’s. He shows that the World Bank’s describes Lesotho and its problems in a way that excludes politics, that is, for example, friction, competing claims, conflict, inequality, personal agendas and biased interests. When designing projects that “technological” way, excluding “politics” which is an important part of the local context, the projects will not achieve their stated goals. Rather, the outcome of development projects, according to Ferguson, is that they expand the power of the state over its people.


Li, Tania Murray. (2007). The will to improve: Governmentality, development, and the practice of politics. Duke University Press.

In short: Murray Li studies how nature conservation projects in Sulawesi, Indonesia, falls short of expected outcomes by project proponents, due to a mismatch between, for example, project design and local norms, values and needs and unequal power relations between project proponents and local communities. She also has a more general discussion about various kinds of “improvement schemes” and how they often include certain actors’ knowledge but exclude other actors’ knowledge – often local communities’. She states that project implementers and policy makers are driven by a genuine “will to improve”, but that development projects often have unexpected effects that can even pose negative challenges to local communities due to a lack of understanding the local context that often excludes political factors such as power, conflict, varying perspectives and biased interests.


Land use and access for local populations

Engström, L., Bélair, J., & Blache, A. (2022). ”Formalising village land dispossession? An aggregate analysis of the combined effects of the land formalisation and land acquisition agendas in Tanzania.” Land Use Policy120, 106255.


John Walwa, W. (2017). “Land use plans in Tanzania: repertoires of domination or solutions to rising farmer–herder conflicts?.” Journal of Eastern African Studies11(3), 408-424. DOI: 10.1080/17531055.2017.1359878

In short: When land formalisation programs are implemented, powerful actors’ interest in land (from, for example, private companies) tend to influence who gains and who loses land. The outcome is often that local communities frequently lose access and rights to land, to the benefit of more powerful actors such as investors or government officials. Legal frameworks have loopholes that are used by government actors to over-rule the voices of local communities in conflicts over land. Land formalisation is often motivated with that it will solve land conflicts but here it is shown that formalisation increases conflict over land. Since land access is central to the livelihoods of farmers and herders in rural Africa – for agricultural production, grazing, collection of fire wood and fodder – losing land poses a great threat to their lives and wellbeing. 


Fairhead, J., Leach, M., & Scoones, I. (2012). “Green grabbing: a new appropriation of nature?.” Journal of peasant studies39(2), 237-261. DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2012.671770

In short: Projects with “greening” ambitions through for example sequestering carbon, biodiversity conservation or ecotourism often impact negatively on local communities’ access to land. These projects often assume that current local practices are destructive to forests and other important natural resources, without proper evidence. There is great need for firm requirements for equal and just distribution of benefits from market based, “greening” projects, combined with accountability and transparency.


Fleischman, F., Basant, S., Chhatre, A., Coleman, E,. Fischer, H., Gupta, D., Güneralp, B., Kashwan, P., Khatri, D., Muscarella, B., Powers., J., Ramprasad, V., Rana, P., Rodriguez Solorzano, C. Veldman, J. 2020. Pitfalls of tree planting show why we need people-centered natural climate solutions. Bioscience 70(11): 947–950.

In short: Tree planting projects often target land where people have insecure land tenure, and the land may be viewed by governments or other actors as “available” for tree planting. Replacing croplands with trees can result in unemployment for agricultural workers and elevate food prices.



Bond, William J., et al. "The trouble with trees: afforestation plans for Africa." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 34.11 (2019): 963-965.

In short: These authors discuss carbon related forestation plans for Africa and point out that these plans wrongly assume that low tree cover in areas that have enough rainfall to support forests means that these areas are ‘deforested’ and ‘degraded’. However, Africa’s savannas and grasslands existed, alongside forests, for millions of years before humans began felling trees. The result of this serious misunderstanding is that ancient savanna landscapes, including the Serengeti, are mapped as deforested and degraded and targeted with large-scale afforestation programs that are likely to have very negative impacts on biodiversity and local communities. The authors do support restoring forests destroyed in historical times, retention of intact forests that remain, and the planting of trees in urban areas for shade and enjoyment, and point out how little of the large amounts of fossil emissions that tree planting can actually absorb.


Fischer K and Hajdu F (2018). “The importance of the will to improve: how ‘sustainability’ sidelined local livelihoods in a carbon-forestry investment in Uganda.” Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. 20 (3) 328-341 DOI: 10.1080/1523908X.2017.1410429

In short: This article discusses how the very term ‘sustainable’ was used to sideline local social sustainability in a carbon forestry CDM project. No clear definitions “sustainable” was provided, instead grouping of different social, economic and environmental aspects into this term made it possible to hide tensions and trade-offs and favour an interpretation of sustainability that brought together economic gains for project proponents and climate change mitigation goals. This repeats many previous interventions that sideline the interests of the poor.


Fischer, K Giertta, F and Hajdu, F. (2019). “Carbon-binding biomass or a diversity of useful trees? (Counter) topographies of carbon forestry in Uganda.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. 2 (1) 178-199 DOI: 10.1177/2514848618823598

In short: The article argues that focusing on the carbon-binding aspect of trees in carbon forestry often leads to oversimplifying local ecologies and livelihoods. Project proponents looking for binding carbon efficiently may view local trees very differently from local people who use the trees in their everyday lives. From local women’s perspectives, the carbon forestry plantation represented a degradation in terms of tree diversity and reduced their access to forest products, increasing livelihood struggles.


Hajdu F, Fischer K, Penje O 2016 Questioning the use of ‘degradation’ in climate mitigation: A case study of a forest carbon CDM project in Uganda. Land Use Policy. 59 (31) 412–422. Available Open Access. DOI: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2016.09.016

In short: This article shows how a company promoting a carbon forestry project in Uganda claimed that local communities were causing degradation and deforestation without well-founded evidence, and that this evidence was not questioned by third party verifications throughout the UN system. Investigations by the authors show that the area was in fact accumulating trees and that pockets of deforestation had most likely been caused by a temporary influx of refugees due to war in northern Uganda.


Hajdu, F and Fischer, K. (2017). “Problems, causes and solutions in the forest carbon discourse: A framework for analysing degradation narratives. “Climate and Development. 9 (6) 537-547 DOI:10.1080/17565529.2016.1174663  

In short: This article gives a good background to the literature on degradation narratives in Africa, and show how unverified claims of local overuse of resources leading to degradation have been used in the past by proponents who stand to gain from different interventions to justify these. Explaining why past insights about degradation narratives have to be taken into consideration in carbon forestry today, the article presents a framework for integrating these into policy and practice.


Skutsch, Margaret, and Esther Turnhout. "REDD+: If communities are the solution, what is the problem?." World Development 130 (2020): 104942.

In short: While literature shows that the primary driver of deforestation tends to be commercial agriculture, carbon initiatives place a disproportionate focus on the role of local communities. The researchers show that carbon programmes focus on communities because it is easier than on large-scale drivers on deforestation. Carbon projects in communities are a “solution looking for a problem”.


Socio economic opportunities and risks for local populations

Coleman, E.A., Schultz, B., Ramprasad, V. et al. (2021) “Limited effects of tree planting on forest canopy cover and rural livelihoods in Northern India.” Nat Sustain

In short: The article shows that local communities had little use of tree planting projects for their livelihoods. 


Fischer, K., Giertta, F., Hajdu, F. (2019). Carbon-binding biomass or a diversity of useful trees? (counter)topographies of carbon forestry in Uganda. Environment and Planning. E, Nature and Space (Print) 2 (1), 178–199.

In short: The article shows how the focus on trees as biomass for binding carbon in a carbon forestry project in Uganda takes focus away from how local women see trees as being diverse and useful for many different purposes. It shows how a monoculture plantation claiming to reforest a degraded area has instead limited the livelihoods for local women.


Fleischman, F., Basant, S., Chhatre, A., Coleman, E,. Fischer, H., Gupta, D., Güneralp, B., Kashwan, P., Khatri, D., Muscarella, B., Powers., J., Ramprasad, V., Rana, P., Rodriguez Solorzano, C. Veldman, J. (2020). “Pitfalls of tree planting show why we need people-centered natural climate solutions.” Bioscience 70(11): 947–950.

In short: Tree planting projects tend to fail if they are not people-centered. They often threaten local livelihoods.


Khatri, D., Maskey, G., & Adhikari, B. (2018). REDD+ and Community Forestry in Nepal: Strengthening or Paralysing Decentralised Governance?. Journal of Forest and Livelihood16(1), 35–55.

In short: A case from Nepal concludes that the implementation of REDD+ conservation for carbon is reshaping community forest management practices towards generating revenue for carbon credits, which undermines the need to manage forests to meet diverse needs of local farmers.


Malkamäki, Arttu, et al. "A systematic review of the socio-economic impacts of large-scale tree plantations, worldwide." Global environmental change 53 (2018): 90-103. 

In short: This study reviewed 105 cases worldwide of large-scale tree plantations, and found more negative than positive socio-economic impacts locally.


Power relations including participation

Blum, Mareike. (2020) "Whose climate? Whose forest? Power struggles in a contested carbon forestry project in Uganda." Forest Policy and Economics 115: 102137.

In short: Carbon market projects need to address local concerns, even if this decreases the efficiency of the project implementation. In this project, local people were excluded from the forest which caused local resistance towards the project. The company changed to a more moderate management regime which reduced resistance. Voluntary standards and forest companies need to explain and motivate how and why carbon markets are important, from the beginning of implementing a carbon forestry project, in order to be accepted locally.


Fleischman, F., Basant, S., Fischer, H., Gupta, D., Garcia Lopez, G., Kashwan, P., Powers, J.S., Ramprasad, V., Rana, P., Rastogi, A., Rodriguez Solorzano, C. & Schmitz, M. (2021). How politics shapes the outcomes of forest carbon finance. Current opinion in environmental sustainability, 51, 7–14.

In short: This study shows that carbon finance relies on the presence of enforceable human rights, representative and accountable institutions, clear incentives, and symmetrical power relations. In the absence of these conditions, carbon finance provides perverse incentives that undermine biodiversity and human rights without storing carbon. It shows that finance opportunities are vulnerable to capture by powerful entities.


Ojha, H., Maraseni, T., Nightingale, A., Bhattarai, B. & Khatri, D. (2019). Rescuing forests from the carbon trap. Forest policy and economics, 101, 15–18.

In short: The way decision makers and development agencies talk about forest and climate change has become “carbon centric” which conceals other important functions of ecosystems. They do not take power relations sufficiently into account and resulting solutions seldom benefit communities enough.


References that substantiate that ‘offsetting is seriously questioned by science’

Bolin Center for Climate Research, 2020:: “Making an educated decision about carbon offsetting!/menu/standard/file/Carbon-offsetting_sv-v3.pdf in English


Carton, W., Asiyanbi, A., Beck, S., Buck, H. J., & Lund, J. F. (2020). Negative emissions and the long history of carbon removal. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change11(6), e671

In short: Tells the long history of carbon removal policy and how it has been a lot of political power play in negotiating current policies and accounting practices and urges acknowledgement of problematic past experiences with the implementation of carbon sequestration projects.


Carton, W., Hougaard, I. M., Markusson, N., & Friis Lund, J. (2023). Is Carbon Removal Delaying Emission Reductions?. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change.

In short: Discusses studies about if the opportunity of carbon removals (including carbon forestry) makes people and companies less likely to prioritize deep emission cuts and opt for “offsetting” instead. The conclusion is that these studies are often problematic in their design and how they focus only on individual reasoning. They also mention the argument that “we don’t have to choose between emission reductions and removals—we need to do both”— and points out that this point fails to acknowledge trade-offs and conflicts and ignores power and politics. “It fails to ask the perhaps single most important question in the net zero debate right now: How much of each should different actors be doing, and who decides that—on what grounds? And how do we prevent incumbent and politically powerful actors from claiming their own emissions as “unavoidable”—not because they are technically impossible to eliminate, but because it is politically or economically inconvenient to do so?”


Christiansen, K. L., Hajdu, F., Mollaoglu, E. P., Andrews, A., Carton, W., & Fischer, K. (2023). “Our burgers eat carbon”: Investigating the discourses of corporate net-zero commitments. Environmental Science & Policy142, 79-88.

In short: The article  investigates the net-zero claims and narratives of a Swedish fast food chain claiming to sell “climate positive” burgers, showing that these claims and the focus on offsetting through tree planting in Africa directs focus away from actions that could directly reduce emissions. Net-zero claims may serve to justify business-as-usual corporate climate approaches and legitimize carbon-intensive lifestyles without more and careful regulation than what is currently available.


Karin Bäckstrand & Eva Lövbrand 2016. “The Road to Paris: Contending Climate Governance Discourses in the Post-Copenhagen Era” in Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 

In short: Why North-South trade in carbon credits should no longer occur under the Paris Agreement


Lang, Blum, & Leipold, 2019. “What future for the voluntary carbon offset market after Paris? An explorative study based on the discursive agency approach” In Climate Policy 


Mackey et al. 2013: “Untangling the confusion around land carbon science and climate change mitigation policy” in Nature Climate Change 3(6):552-557 Available here

In short:  Examines three scientific issues and consider implications for the interpretation of international climate change policy decisions, concluding that considering carbon storage on land as a means to 'offset' CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels (an idea with wide currency) is scientifically flawed. The capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to store carbon is finite and the current sequestration potential primarily reflects depletion due to past land use.


McLaren et al. 2019: “Beyond “Net-Zero”: A Case for Separate Targets for Emissions Reduction and Negative Emissions” in Frontiers in Climate 

In short: Why net-zero targets relying on carbon offsets do not help reducing emissions, and why separate targets are needed for real emissions reductions at the source, and investment in negative emissions elsewhere


Pellegrini et al. 2021: “Decadal changes in fire frequencies shift tree communities and functional traits” in Nature Ecology & Evolution 

In short: Forest sinks lose their capacity to store carbon, due to climate change


Robert Watt 2021: “The fantasy of carbon offsetting” in Environmental Politics 

In short: The psychological reasons for why carbon offsetting business still persists, despite its failure to achieve actual reductions in emissions.


Stoddard, I., Anderson, K., Capstick, S., Carton, W., Depledge, J., Facer, K., ... & Williams, M. (2021). Three decades of climate mitigation: why haven't we bent the global emissions curve?. Annual Review of Environment and Resources46(1), 653-689.

In short: Discusses among other problems the high-carbon lifestyles and belief in offsetting as a hindrance for reducing emissions.