'Environmental Representation' in the Biochar Carbon Trading Debate

Wednesday 26th April 2023 (13:00-14:00)

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Our seminar series will feature speakers who will use ideas from science and technology studies and related fields to illuminate their area of study. If you would like more information about ISS, or would like to give a presentation in the future please contact ISS Director, Pru Hobson-West.


ISS Seminar Series 20223/23 

Speaker: Dr Catherine Price, University of Nottingham

The production (and subsequent trading) of carbon credits by sequestering carbon to land is one of the market based governance mechanisms being developed to help reach net zero. One approach to increasing soil carbon storage is through the application of biochar. Biochar is one of a growing number of Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR) technologies that promise to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Using an ‘environmental representation’ framework, in this paper I ask: Which environmental representatives support and / or resist biochar carbon trading, why and how? The use of an ‘environmental representation’ framework is justified because environmental problems such as the climate crisis are multifaceted. This complexity is further amplified because environmental facts cannot speak for themselves and a representative has to speak on behalf of the environment. I draw from original data collected in 2022 from 33 semi-structured interviews with mostly UK based environmental representatives who have an interest or potential interest in biochar.

The results reveal the different knowledge claims which are being made about biochar carbon trading and by whom, and with what authority these knowledge claims are being made. These knowledge claims reveal the discourses around the carbon trading of biochar are complex with both support and resistance from environmental representatives. This resistance is particularly striking in that biochar carbon trading is perceived by environmental representatives to be used as a marketing tool by companies to illustrate green credentials whilst they make no attempt to mitigate carbon emissions. Whose voices become the loudest, and whose expertise is considered legitimate will influence whether consensus is reached on the acceptability of carbon trading of biochar and with it the risk of distraction from the critical task of reducing emissions. 

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Institute for Science and Society
School of Sociology and Social Policy
Law and Social Sciences
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD