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Centre for International Environmental Studies

Accounting for Nature: Agriculture and Mitigation in the Era of Global Climate Change

Funding Organisation: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Timeline: 2021-2025
Budget: 811'818 CHF


Agriculture is paradoxically positioned in relation to climate change - contributing significantly to the problem, while being immediately and directly threatened by it.  This project examines how the mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gases is emerging as a sphere of knowledge and an arena of management through the development of accounting practices and protocols. To date, mitigation has largely been a technical undertaking, dominated by scientific and economic disciplines that rely heavily on accounting methodologies. Social scientific research on the relation of agriculture and climate change has predominantly focused on advancing understandings of the impacts of climate change on agricultural livelihoods. Yet, agriculture is estimated to account for 25-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with projections rising over the coming decades (Smith P. et al. 2014; Sanderman,Hengl, and Fiske 2017). Given the sizeable emissions that are also generated by agricultural activities, there is surprisingly little literature within the social sciences that investigates efforts to mitigate greenhouse gases (GHG) in agrarian settings.

This project uses the theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches of anthropology to develop a more holistic understanding of climate change mitigation and address several important lacunae in current knowledge. It directs focus on the role of accounting practices in mitigation, which have received little attention within the anthropological literature on climate change. In doing so, it explores how accounting shapes and conditions the way that both climate change, and the work of mitigation, is apprehended within agriculture. The focus on agriculture is also deliberate. Agricultural activities have long remained on the margins of mitigation efforts and have proved controversial within climate negotiations. Preliminary research conducted for this project indicates, however, that agriculture’s potential in achieving future emissions reductions is increasingly recognized.