“Planting Trees is Always Good” : a WPR-analysis of Swedish carbon offsetting initiatives through tree planting projects in the Global South

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: This thesis explores how two Swedish companies and a sample of Swedish consumers describe the role of private actors in climate change mitigation. Carbon offsetting by planting trees in the Global South has become a common approach for Swedish food and beverage companies (among other companies) that seek to reduce their climate impact. Since 2018, the Swedish fast food restaurant Max Burgers AB (MAX) has been offsetting 110% of its greenhouse gas emissions and advertises a ‘climate positive’ menu. The initiative has been prized by the UN Global Climate Action Awards for being an innovative, replicable and scalable climate solution. MAX is also urging other companies and private individuals to implement the ‘climate positive’ model, in order to solve the climate crisis. This thesis draws on Carol Bacchi’s WPR approach for policy analysis to explore how the proposed solution can be understood in terms of problem representations. Two Swedish companies’ websites were analysed and semi-structured interviews with 13 customers at MAX were conducted in order to understand what kinds of problems carbon offsetting by planting trees in countries in the Global South responds to according to these actors. The thesis presents four problem-solution complexes in which the two companies mainly represent climate change as a problem of 1) reduced emissions and carbon dioxide removal, 2) consumption, 3) deforestation and carbon sequestration and 4) where carbon offsetting also is represented as a solution to sustainable development challenges in the Global South. The study concludes that on the two companies’ websites, these four problem representations reinforced each other and created a strong narrative for practicing carbon offsetting by planting trees in countries in the Global South as a solution to climate change and sustainable development challenges. At the same time, the customers’ responses imply that the discourse on how private actors and individuals can mitigate climate change is not homogenous, as they partially contrasted the two companies’ problem representations of climate change. The customers’ responses also illustrated a mental distance to the tree planting project in Uganda that MAX purchases carbon credits from, as well as a lack of awareness regarding local impacts of the project. Moreover, this thesis illustrates how planting trees has enabled MAX to communicate to its customers that they are the ones that will solve climate change, by eating burgers at the Swedish fast food restaurant.

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