Biodiversity conservation & management Environment & Human Development Political ecology

Beyond market logics in PES

As originally conceived, Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes provide conditional cash transfers directed to poor farmers and land users in exchange for greener land use practices that enhance carbon sequestration, water provision, or biodiversity protection. Two decades of experience with the PES approach has demonstrated that few, if any, initiatives conform to the assumptions that underlie the original economic model.

This collection of articles, guest edited by Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Pamela McElwee, Gert van Hecken and myself, examines why these initiatives, constructed on market‐based principles and promoted as part of the neoliberal political project, often do not look nearly as ‘market‐like’ or neoliberal on the ground. Through subtle, situated, empirically rich and theoretically informed analyses, the 10 articles that comprise this special issue analyse the variegated ways and degrees to which original market-based models have been adopted, contested, adapted, hybridized and transformed to fit other ontologies and purposes.

The articles are based on research conducted in a diversity of geographies and contexts, and a variety of types and scales of PES approaches. These range from NGO‐initiated, small‐scale carbon offsetting on the steppes of Mongolia and watershed management projects in Colombia and Ecuador, to regional projects for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) in Indonesia and Brazil, to nationally scaled PES policies of the centralized states of Mexico, Guatemala, China and Vietnam.

Taking a political ecology approach, all articles frame their analyses of specific PES initiatives in the global South as an often‐idiosyncratic form of development practice that is influenced by and mediates between global structural trajectories (e.g. capitalism, developmentalism or environmentalism) and the locally situated, historically defined and grounded practices of the actors involved. In this sharpening of our understanding of what PES is in practice and what it can become, we begin to see that certain required components of the neoclassical economic model, promoted by the neoliberal political project — such as the need for valuation of nature, the creation of institutions, and the negotiations that inevitably surround the distribution of benefits — also afford and can allow for local interpretations and flexibility.

The special issue contributes to a growing body of research that sheds light on the ways and degrees to which subjects of neoliberal interventions are able to find ‘surfaces of engagement’ through which they can, to a greater or lesser extent, alter, adapt and, in some cases, create spaces for wholesale transformations of exogenously imposed models in conformity to their own aims and goals. Feel free to ask me for the papers if you cannot get hold of them online.