Neoliberalization, Climate Change, and Community Forestry in Nepal

Shangrila Joshi

In this paper, I address the question of whether and to what extent neoliberal climate solutions such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) pose a threat to common pool resource governance structures such as community forestry in Nepal.

Starting with the premise that climate change offers a frontier for the decades-long project of neoliberalizing nature (Bakker 2005) in the form of the atmospheric commons, as evidenced by the ascendance of neoliberal climate solutions such as REDD+ and CDM; and that such neoliberalization of the resource commons is dangerous for social and ecological sustainability at the local-global scales, my paper sets out to examine whether these climate policies as they have been operationalized in the Nepalese context, have shown signs of jeopardizing social structures in place to safeguard social and ecological sustainability.

Drawing on an analysis of qualitative interviews collected in Nepal during the summers of 2013, 2017, and 2018, I argue that there are two key ways in which the institutions of common pool resource governance are being compromised as a result of the advent of REDD+ and CDM. In case of CDM, accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2005) is observed in the way in which the household labor of women is appropriated – often without informed consent – to enable carbon trade between Nepal and the World Bank. In case of REDD+, competition over scarce financial resources serves as a tool for the gradual erosion of essential elements of community forestry governance (see Ostrom 1999).

After an initial phase of establishing the groundwork for pilot REDD+ projects in the Terai (Chitwan), mid-hills (Gorkha) and mountainous (Dolakha) regions, the newly acquired World Bank-facilitated REDD+ project will be carried out in the Terai Arc Landscape in the first installment. Preparatory groundwork activities indicate that community forestry leaders are desirous of REDD+ monies but unclear exactly what the criteria are for selection. There is a clear perception that ‘scientific forestry’ is deemed desirable by REDD+ administering agencies. The centralized push towards the replacement of local knowledge driven management of forests by such methods is increasingly successful, potentially weakening established community forestry regimes, and strengthening the power of central forest agencies in Kathmandu.

While a key motivator for the promotion of scientific forestry is the need to facilitate legibility, measurements, and quantification of carbon for the purposes of trade, it is so far unclear whether scientific forestry will erode and weaken community forestry institutions. With the imposition of scientific forestry, there is a danger that REDD+ serves not only as a neoliberal instrument but as a neocolonial one – threatening to replace traditional local knowledge regimes with West-driven technological ones. However, there is also always the possibility that local resource users astutely take what they find useful in seemingly neocolonial and neoliberal instruments, and modify them to meet their own needs. This reading of ongoing environmental politics is more interesting than those that are limited to viewing Third World resource users primarily as victims of First World environmental solutions.

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