Indicators of carbon storage in forests and other land uses have gained much prominence to evaluate and endorse land-based climate change mitigation policies. The outcomes of such assessments can have direct livelihood implications for dwellers living at the forest–agriculture frontier, such as shifting cultivators or subsistence farmers. This contribution critically discusses the methodological relevance of carbon stock indicators to assess long-term emission dynamics of land uses, and furthermore addresses the ‘politics of measurement’ that can be involved in policy practice. From a complex socio-ecological systems perspective, the paper argues that carbon stock indicators provide necessary but not sufficient information to endorse land use policies with mitigation aims. While they may indicate one-off sequestration gains through vegetation and land-use change, they cannot account for permanent hidden emissions that emerge as part of the broader agrarian transitions that accompany land-use change. Over the long term, this may render related mitigation interventions ineffective, if not counterproductive. Furthermore, carbon stock estimates for future land-use scenarios sometimes draw on biased assumptions, or are constructed within histories of discrimination, through which they may further marginalize subaltern groups such as shifting cultivators. A paradigm shift is needed that includes more integrative assessment approaches.

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The Journal of Peasant Studies
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Scheidel, A. (2018). Carbon stock indicators: reductionist assessments and contentious policies on land use. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 1–22. doi:10.1080/03066150.2018.1428952