The role of discourses in governing forests to combat climate change

  • Tobias Dan Nielsen
Original Paper


Reducing emissions from forest degradation and deforestation, conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks, and sustainably managing forests (REDD+) has emerged as one of the most anticipated climate change mitigation tools. This paper aims to understand and identify the underlying discourses that have dominated the emergence of REDD+, by identifying the key story lines in the policy and academic debates on REDD+. As such, this paper takes a step away from the “fine-tuning” of policy recommendations and instead studies REDD+ from a more theoretical approach with the intent to provide a critical analysis of the ideational structures that shape the policies that have emerged around REDD+. The analysis shows that ecological modernization and its accompanying story lines constitute a dominant notion of REDD+ as being able to manage the complexities of forest in a synergetic way, combining cost-efficient and effective mitigation with sustainable development. The paper also identifies the critical counter discourse of civic environmentalism, which criticizes this notion of REDD+ and instead promotes issues such as equity, the importance of local knowledge, and the participatory process. It argues that reducing deforestation involves trade-offs between economic, ecological, and social dimensions, also arguing that REDD+ fits overwhelmingly with the interest of the global North.


Climate change REDD+ International climate negotiations UNFCCC Payment for ecosystem services Discourse analysis Story line Ecological modernization Civic environmentalism 



Center for International Forestry Research


Conference of Parties (annual UN climate summits)


Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations


Long-term cooperative action


Monitoring, reporting, verification


Non-Governmental Organization


Payment for ecosystem services


Reducing emissions from forest degradation and deforestation, conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks, and sustainably managing forests


Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity


United Nations Environmental Program


United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change


United Nations collaborative program on REDD+



I am very grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and valuable comments. I also owe a special thanks to Karin Bäckstrand, Johannes Stripple, and Fariborz Zelli for their helpful comments in the process of writing this paper. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the Earth System Governance Conference in Lund, Sweden, in 2012, and at the International Workshop on The Fragmentation of Global Environmental Governance in Bonn, Germany, in 2011.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden

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