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The Matter of Carbon: Understanding the Materiality of tCO2e in Carbon Offsets

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This paper examines the socio-natural relations inherent in the commodification of carbon reductions as they are generated in energy-based carbon offset project activities, and abstracted to wider market systems. The ability to commodify carbon reductions takes place through a socionatural–technical complex that is defined by the material nature of technology's interaction with the atmosphere, local social processes and the evolving governing systems of carbon markets. Carbon is not unproblematically commodified: some projects and technologies allow a more cooperative commodification than others. The examples of a hydroelectricity plant and an improved cookstove project in Honduras are used as empirical case studies to illustrate the difficulties and opportunities associated with the relational aspects of carbon commodification. Drawing upon select literatures from post-structural thought to complement the principal lens of a more structural, materiality of nature analysis, the paper also outlines the reasons why carbon offset reform is needed if offsets are to more progressively engage debates about climate mitigation and North–South development.
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Keywords: Honduras; carbon offsets; clean development mechanism; commodification; neoliberalism; socionature; sustainable development

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: ISIS, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;, Email:

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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