Forest plantations and climate change discourses: New powers of ‘green’ grabbing in Cambodia

Forest plantations and climate change discourses: New powers of ‘green’ grabbing in Cambodia


Forestry-based emissions reduction programs are increasingly being presented as a solution to climate change. Technical experts argue that keeping existing forests standing and creating new forests can help remove carbon emissions. However, several researchers point to a gap between the stated objectives of these programs and their biophysical and unintended socioeconomic outcomes. For example, some negative socioeconomic outcomes may include the displacement of local communities or the loss of customary common land. This paper studies the socioeconomic impacts of Cambodia’s first large scale reforestation project for climate change mitigation.

Research goals & methods

The authors worked to co-produce knowledge collaboratively with local land users between 2015 and 2017 in the Kratie and Steung Treng provinces of Cambodia. Researchers and community members received training to conduct interviews and group discussions, and map areas of conflict. They were particularly interested in studying the ways in which acquiring land is justified and legitimized to meet goals related to climate change mitigation and sustainable forestry.

Conclusions & takeaways

Researchers studied the impact of the project on livelihoods, land use change, and carbon sequestration. They found that: (a) the jobs created through the project were less than livelihoods that were lost either directly or indirectly as a result of the project and land acquisition, (b) large areas of the concession have been converted to a monoculture acacia plantation, and (c) it’s difficult to estimate accurately whether the plantation sequesters more carbon than the naturally regenerated forest would have in the absence of the project. They suggest that despite these drawbacks projects such as this find acceptance within parts of the conservation and development community because of problematic assumptions about swidden cultivation being ecologically unsustainable, the belief that underutilized forest land is easily available, and a limited technical definition of forests which ignores the social meanings that people attach to them.


Scheidel A, Work C. Forest plantations and climate change discourses: New powers of ‘green’ grabbing in Cambodia. Land Use Policy. 2018;77:9 - 18. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.04.057.


  • International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), The Netherlands