”We are planting trees in Africa”: Swedish discourses and local effects of carbon forestry projects in African

Last changed: 14 September 2020

The project explores how Swedish consumers and actors perceive carbon compensation-motivated tree planting projects in African localities, and how imagined local social impacts relate to the realities in host countries.

Background

Planting trees has become increasingly important as a strategy for achieving negative emissions globally. Many tree planting projects are located in the global South and in Sweden several projects are marketed focusing specifically on Africa. In many of these projects, local farmers are claimed to benefit equally alongside the global climate. This narrative hides complex trade-offs, e.g. that carbon is most cost-effectively sequestered through large monoculture plantations of (often) alien trees, while farmers are best helped by planting a variety of useful local trees exactly where needed. In an earlier research project (Conservation, Carbon, Communities: Swedish carbon purchases through forest plantations in Uganda), we showed that local effects of tree planting depend on where, how and by whom they are set up, and also on whether the main aim is to assist local farmers or to sequester carbon. Negative impacts in that case included constrained access to agricultural and grazing land and reduced access to fuelwood. Women and the poorest households were most negatively affected. We also concluded that the assumptions about local deforestation had not been properly verified and that therefore the carbon emission reductions had likely been overestimated.
Read about the previous project Conservation, Carbon, Communities: Swedish carbon purchases through forest plantations in Uganda.

The project

This project aims to explore how Swedish consumers and organisations perceive tree planting projects and how imagined local impacts relate to the realities in host countries. We use case studies of offsetting projects from different actors in Sweden, investigating perceptions along the chain of actors from consumers, through companies, intermediaries selling carbon compensation and local organisations all the way to local farmers in different African countries.

Understanding why some projects have negative local impacts is crucial before scaling up this strategy further. Cooperation with students, communication with the studied organisations and public outreach will spread the knowledge from this project widely.

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