Experiences of host communities with carbon market projects: towards multi-level climate justice


The literature on equity and justice in climate change mitigation has largely focused on North–South relations and equity between states. However, some initiatives (e.g. the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programme (REDD), and voluntary carbon markets (VCMs)) are already establishing multi-level governance structures that involve communities from developing countries in global mitigation efforts. This poses new equity and justice dilemmas: how the burdens and benefits of mitigation are shared across various levels and how host communities are positioned in multi-level governance structures. A review of the existing literature is used to distill a framework for distinguishing between four axes of climate justice from the perspective of communities. Empirical evidence from African and Asian carbon market projects is used to assess the distributive and procedural justice implications for host communities. The evidence suggests that host communities often benefit little from carbon market projects and find it difficult to protect their interests. Capacity building, attention to local power relations, supervision of business practices, promotion of projects with primarily development aims and an active involvement of non-state actors as bridges between local communities and the national/international levels could potentially contribute towards addressing some of the key justice concerns. Policy relevance International negotiations on the institutional frameworks that are envisaged to govern carbon markets are proceeding at a rather slow pace. As a consequence, host countries and private-sector actors are making their own arrangements to safeguard the interests of local communities. While several standards have emerged to guide carbon market activity on the ground, distributive as well as procedural justice concerns nevertheless remain salient. Four empirical case studies across Asia and Africa show that within the multi-scale and multi-actor carbon market governance, local-level actors often lack sufficient agency to advance their claims and protect their interests. This evidence suggests that ameliorating policy reforms are needed to enhance the positioning of local communities. Doing so is important to ensure future acceptability of carbon market activity in potential host communities as well as for ensuring their broader legitimacy.