Many governments and organisations are encouraging carbon dioxide capture in woodlands through the creation of markets that commodify forest carbon. These schemes can connect different values in local landscapes and global environmental responses to climate change, which go beyond increasing the cost-effectiveness of carbon offsetting. In this paper we use the UK Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) to explore the values and meanings brought to the WCC by landowners, forest developers and carbon buyers, with a focus on Scotland. Our analysis presents quantitative and qualitative evidence of different values coexisting among the participants of the WCC, accommodating both conservation oriented woodland expansion projects and those driven by income diversification. The former mainly use non-commercial native broadleaf species and the latter combine commercial non-native conifer plantation with different levels of native broadleaves whilst remaining non-viable economically. WCC participants convey different values and meanings of forest carbon, transcending commodity value as tradeable offsets to encompass other environmental and social outcomes. We argue that the WCC works by encoding and enabling the exchange of different values, which for proponents is a positive feature that captures the diverse co-benefits of woodland. Critics of carbon offsets, meanwhile, may see these shifts in value as a form of greenwashing that benefits carbon buyers. We argue that research into the effects of carbon offset schemes should incorporate both material and symbolic processes that go beyond carbon itself.
Paola Ovando and James Koronka thank the financial support of the Macaulay Development Trust through the Fellowship on Natural Capital at the James Hutton Institute, and the project Finding Viable Pathways for Forest Carbon Offsetting in Europe: FOREWAY (Plan Estatal: PID2021-125340OA-I00). James Koronka began this research as a Masters student at the University of Aberdeen supervised by P. Ovando and J. Vergunst. We especially thank Phoebe Somerville for her support with carbon buyer data preparation. We are very grateful to all the people we interviewed for contributing to this research, Vicky West for providing a UK WCC projects database, Pat Snowdon and James Hepburne Scott for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper, and attendees of the Hutton Symposium 2020 for their valuable comments.
- Woodland expansion
- Voluntary forest carbon markets
- Values codification
- Mixed qualitative and quantitative research methods