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The Social Life of REDD and the New Carbon-Based Transnational Governance in Brazil and Mozambique Open Access

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The Social Life of REDD is an ethnography of an environmental conservation mechanism called REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), that addresses the problem of climate change by reducing greenhouse gases emissions through the financial compensation of avoided deforestation. The emergence of this mechanism follows from a specific definition of the problem of climate change which is grounded in three processes: the constitution of the idea of a global atmosphere, followed by the concomitant perception of a global environment; the assumption that the global climate can be actionable by man; and the definition of the problem of climate change as a market failure – that is, a failure to pay the costs of carbon emissions (conceived as an externality in classic economics). Such definition of the problem of climate change is the result of a recursive co-constitution between climate science and the policy-world. Through an analysis of two historically, culturally, and politically-specific situated settings of the implementation of forest policies—in Acre (Brazil) and Zambézia (Mozambique)—both prior to REDD, and now under the REDD dispensation, I demonstrate how REDD’s specific practices in these locations cannot be explained merely by referencing international designs, much less so as the derivative of the discussions within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Rather, REDD’s practices are even more profoundly shaped by particular interests and forms of struggle, all of them cast in terms that are specific to these milieus, and rooted in longer genealogies of colonial entanglement and struggles whose logics have little to do with any of the terms that inform the concerns of REDD’s international proponents. The Social Life of REDD shows that this mechanism constitutes a productive instrument for transnational governance with implications that expand beyond the scope of forests, or the environment itself. Thus, although REDD is strongly rooted in a specific idea of “the environment,” it can illuminate other cases in which these new forms of transnational governance acquire legitimacy and expand their scope of intervention (e.g. humanitarianism, or security). I suggest that while science is mobilized to justify REDD as an effective mechanism to reduce emissions, the invocation of science also constitutes a key aspect of new forms of transnational governance by foreclosing other policy approaches. Similarly, while REDD makes forests in the Global South an almost inevitable object of intervention to save the planet, distributing responsibilities in a way that elides the historical and cumulative responsibility of industrialized countries in the current state of the planet, other objects of transnational governance can equally be constituted in a way that makes poor countries bear the brunt of specific problems. The Social Life of REDD provides important insights into how new forms of transnational governance justify first, its global approach on ideas of a shared space or values (like the environment), and second, legitimize their interventions in a scientific discourse (and a market rationality – itself couched in a subset of scientific discourses about the economy). Ultimately, this thesis reveals how these two worlds—the international, where REDD is conceived and designed, and the local, where REDD is implemented—are permanently and dialogically articulated, enabling the expansion of transnational governance and the concomitant forms of subjectivity that it engenders.

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