Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

CSTPR Noontime Seminar

Forests, finance and conservation: A turn in US climate policy by Lauren Gifford, Geography Department, University of Colorado Boulder
Winner of the 2017 Radford Byerly Award

This talk will be available via webcast here.

California’s cap and trade program is one of the most established carbon markets in the world, and relies on a network of offsets to help participants balance their carbon budgets. One of these mechanisms involves investment in forest conservation as a means of offsetting industrial emissions. This talk explores the implications of climate policy-driven investment in forest conservation, with a focus on several projects in Maine that are tied to California’s carbon market.

This talk takes a critical approach, drawing on political ecology and science and technology studies (STS) to ask how, and by whom, climate and conservation policies enacted. It explores how a mechanism originally designed to address industrial GHG emissions on the west coast has become a major tool for conservation funding on the other side of the country. Data collection draws on a suite of qualitative methods, including more than 100 interviews collected over five years of fieldwork, from Maine, to the Peruvian Amazon, to the United Nations annual climate negotiations, as well as participant observation in carbon accounting training courses through the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. This research reveals the role of the financial industry in designing and brokering forest carbon projects, and illuminates the linked worlds of forestry and finance as key to making forests legible within climate action plans. Finally, the research shows that what was designed as a tool to help polluters administratively address their carbon budgets has become a vital funding source for conservation and economic development in a region struggling amid a collapsed paper industry and depressed local economies. 

Biography: Lauren Gifford is a PhD candidate in Geography. Her dissertation is titled “See the carbon through the trees: Market-based climate change mitigation, forest carbon offsets, and the uneven power of carbon accounting” She was the recipient of the 2017 Radford Byerly, Jr. Award in Science and Technology Policy and used the grant, in part, to support summer dissertation research in Grand Lake Stream, Maine.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017
2018 - 12:00 to 13:00





  • CIRES employees
  • CU Boulder employees
  • General Public
  • NOAA employees
  • Science collaborators


  • Seminar
  • Open to Public



CSTPR Conference Room