Call for Papers – Nature as Climate Solution? Exploring the Political Ecologies of Nature-based Carbon Removal
Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020
Organizers: Wim Carton, Kate Dooley, Jens Friis Lund
In the belief that emission reductions will be insufficient to keep global warming within the temperature targets agreed in Paris, scientists and policy makers are taking an increased interest in ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. One of the more popular ways to go about this involves the use of so-called ‘nature-based solutions’, meaning the increased sequestration of carbon in soils, forests and other ecosystems. A number of recent, high-profile papers demonstrate a burgeoning hope that this could be achieved at large scale, making a significant contribution to climate mitigation [1,2]. This idea has appealed to a wide spectrum of actors, from anti-capitalist climate activists, such as Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein , to airlines, agrobusinesses, and fossil fuel industries.
There are clear conflicts between the interests of these different actors and the specific meaning they give to nature-based carbon removal. On the one hand, nature-based solutions are put forward as a comprehensive way to halt and potentially reverse the combination of unsustainable land use, land use emissions and rapid biodiversity loss [4,5]. The recent IPCC report on Climate Change and Land , as well as the IPBES 2019 Global Assessment Report  both speak to the urgency of drastic action on these interconnected issues. On the other hand, nature-based solutions are being imagined as a way to help offset a continued dependence on fossil fuels. One much-quoted study for example concludes that “[n]atural climate solutions can provide 37% of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030” , whereas only 24% of greenhouse gas emissions originate from land use. Major polluters have also taken an interest, with for example oil majors such as Shell and Eni announcing plans to invest in nature-based solutions as a way to offset their continued emissions [8,9].
These emergent discourses and indeed many of the solutions that are being proposed will be familiar to political ecologists, who have worked extensively on for example REDD+ and carbon offsets. However, the scale of proposed nature-based interventions to respond to overshooting the carbon budget is new. What is being proposed is far-reaching land use changes on a planetary scale. This raises urgent questions about potential tradeoffs, implications for climate justice, environmental governance, and the broader politics of how this debate is unfolding. Are calls for nature-based solutions setting the scene for a new surge of investment in land across the globe – a new impending ‘green grab’, or is there potential here for community-owned, democratic and progressive forms of carbon removal? What new narratives and discourses are accompanying the surge in interest in carbon removal? What role do researchers play in performing different discourses around nature-based solutions, and what role can they take to prevent sound proposals from being coopted by vested interests? In what ways does this discourse and the emergent stakeholder coalitions differ from that of for example REDD+? What lessons can be drawn from historical political ecology/environmental history about the prospects of implementing environmental interventions at the scales proposed?
Political ecologists are well-placed to help answer these questions. They can help unpack, contextualize and problematize emergent discourses around nature-based solutions, and connect debates, such as around climate change responses and biodiversity losses, that are often treated separately.
This session aims to mobilize the extensive knowledge on forest governance and REDD+ (among others) within the political ecology community and use it to reflect on the wider and emerging discourse of nature-based climate solutions. We thus invite papers that explore, among other things:
- The emergence, dissemination and evolution of (new) discourses and narratives on carbon removal, nature-based solutions and carbon sequestration
- The emergence of novel actors and constellations of actors promoting and/or contesting discourses and/or practices on nature-based solutions, and the politics this gives rise to
- Tradeoffs and synergies between nature-based solutions and food security, biodiversity, and other development objectives
- Questions of materiality and ecological difference in the prioritization of some “natures” or sequestration efforts over others
- Critical feminist, queer and postcolonial perspectives on nature-based removals
- Utopian explorations of radical alternatives to current climate mitigation responses, including diverse values and practices of knowledge creation that could shape radical responses to climate change and biodiversity loss
- The politics and governance of accounting for carbon removal in the new context of globally balancing sources and sinks
- Theoretical explorations of the role that nature-based carbon removal plays within the wider political economy of climate change mitigation and continued fossil fuel use
- Critical investigations of new ways in which carbon removal is being commodified, economized and/or financialized
1. Griscom, B. W., Adams, J., Ellis, P. W., Houghton, R. A., Lomax, G., Miteva, D. A., … Fargione, J. (2017). Natural climate solutions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(44), 11645–11650. doi:10.1073/pnas.1710465114
2. Bastin, J.-F. (2019). The global tree restoration potential. Science, 79(July), 76–79.
3. Thunberg et al. (2019, April 3). A natural solution to the climate disaster. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/03/a-natural-solution-to-the-climate-disaster
4. Lewis, S. L., Wheeler, C. E., Mitchard, E. T. A., & Koch, A. (2019). Regenerate natural forests to store carbon. Nature, 568, 25–28. doi:doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01026-8
5. Seddon, N., Turner, B., Berry, P., Chausson, A., & Girardin, C. A. J. (2019). Grounding nature-based climate solutions in sound biodiversity science. Nature Climate Change, 9(2), 84–87. doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0405-0
6. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2019). Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems – Summary for Policymakers. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/08/4.-SPM_Approved_Microsite_FINAL.pdf
7. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). (2019). Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science- Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Retrieved from https://www.ipbes.net/system/tdf/ipbes_7_10_add-1-_advance_0.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=35245
8. Sheppard, D., & Hook, L. (2019). Eni to plant vast forest in push to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Financial Times,. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/7c4d944e-470d-11e9-b168-96a37d002cd3
9. Shell. (2019). Shell invests in nature as part of broad drive to tackle CO2 emissions. Retrieved August 26, 1BC, from https://www.shell.com/media/news-and-media-releases/2019/shell-invests-in-nature-to-tackle-co2-emissions.html