Book Club

The Chair read for you Compensation carbone. La fabrique d’un marché contesté by Alice Valiergue

Published on 07 July 2021

Based on her doctoral thesis, this book Compensation carbone. La fabrique d’un marché contesté [1] by Alice Valiergue offers a sociological investigation of the formation and development of the voluntary carbon offsetting market. The author suggests that the extension of this market has been achieved through the fabrication of physical and/or monetary measures and the construction of moral justifications. Compared to the existing literature on carbon offsetting, this work differs in that it is rooted in the field, both in African forests and in the offices of European companies.

It is not the genealogy of the voluntary offset market that is original in this book, as it repeats the role of UN institutions, the influence of economics, and the strategies of recovery of the Kyoto Protocol by the first operators. However, the sociological attention given to the detailed description of the calculation of a carbon credit is particularly innovative and appreciable.

From an analytical point of view, the author shows different processes in the making of this market. First, she suggests that offsetting allows for the singularization of an activist offer intended for particular clients. She also shows the stages in the construction of the legitimacy of the product, i.e., the quality of the offset project, and of the seller, i.e., the reliability of the operator in carrying out the project. Furthermore, the fierce competition in the voluntary market between companies and NGOs has led them to pursue vertical integration strategies. In fact, companies are trying to transform themselves into field actors, while NGOs are trying to make their activist activities profitable. So far, however, the controversies caused by the opportunism of some operators have provided NGOs with a reputational advantage. Finally, the growth of the market for services associated with offsetting is studied through three phenomena: (i) the creation of new markets for labels, standards, and other certificates, as well as audits; (ii) the production of figures and monetary equivalence internal to companies; and (iii) the formation of new alliances between NGOs and companies.

In conclusion, Alice Valiergue is more interested in the avenues for improvement than in the problems posed by the voluntary practice of carbon offsetting. According to the author, strengthening the quality of carbon offsetting projects requires a rethinking of the relationships between standardization organizations and operators, but above all, a broader reduction of North-South inequalities.

Raphaël Olivier, Ph.D. candidate Governing by the price signal? On the performativity of corporate carbon pricing.

[1] Valiergue, A., (2021), Compensation carbone. La fabrique d’un marché contesté, Sorbonne Université Presses, Collection L’intelligence du social, Série Sociologie économique, Paris