Forest plantations or so-called carbon sinks have played a critical role in the climate change negotiations and constitute a central element in the scheme to limit atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations set out by the Kyoto Protocol. This paper examines dominant discursive framings of forest plantation projects in the climate regime. A central proposition is that these projects represent a microcosm of competing and overlapping discourses that are mirrored in debates of global environmental governance. While the win-win discourse of ecological modernization has legitimized the inclusion of sink projects in the Kyoto Protocol, a green governmentality discourse has provided the scientific rationale necessary to turn tropical tree-plantation projects operational on the emerging carbon market. A critical civic environmentalism discourse has contested forest sink projects depicting them as unjust and environmentally unsound strategies to mitigate climate change. The article examines the articulation and institutionalization of these discourses in the climate negotiation process as well as the wider implications for environmental governance.

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Author notes

This work was financed by the Graninge Foundation, the Faculty of Natural Science at Kalmar University and the Wallenberg Foundation. We extend our thanks to two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and valuable comments. A special thanks also to Matthew Paterson for his helpful editing of our text.