Public and private sector actors increasingly recognize the need for action to address climate change. With the introduction of “carbon sinks” into the policy dialogue, the notion of managing human activities to mitigate climate change has extended beyond energy systems and emissions of carbon dioxide to include management of the carbon cycle itself, through manipulation of the terrestrial and oceanic realms. The number of decision makers involved and scope of managing the carbon cycle deliberately for climate purposes raises enormous challenges to governance including identifying appropriate mechanisms where they do not yet exist and adding additional criteria onto existing mechanisms that are already affecting the carbon cycle. In this paper, I define effective carbon governance as limiting the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This paper outlines a number of challenges to effective carbon governance at multiple scales using the example of land use in the United States and elsewhere.

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Author notes

Lisa Dilling is a Visiting Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA and holds a PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her career has spanned both research and practice arenas of the science-policy interface, including 6 years in Washington, D.C. as a program manager for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration managing research in the US Global Change Research Program, and 4 years researching the connection of carbon cycle science to policy, communication for climate change, and scales of decision making. Her current research focuses on the use of information in decision making and science policies related to climate and, in particular, the carbon cycle.

Special thanks to Harriet Bulkeley and Susi Moser, and to Ron Mitchell, Leigh Raymond and two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments and suggestions. I would also like to acknowledge the funding support of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through grant NA05OAR4311170. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NOAA.