Lazy lands or carbon sinks? : frames and integration in the nexus of forest, agriculture and climate change

Cinthia Lucia Soto Golcher

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The interactions among the forest, agriculture and climate change policy domains are quite complex. On the one hand, forests provide important livelihoods and ecosystem services. These include protection of biodiversity and water sources, climate regulation, absorption of CO2, the reduction of the risks and impacts of extreme weather events, and important recreational and spiritual values in different parts of the world,  just to mention a few. On the other hand, agriculture provides food, animal feed, bioenergy, and employment, and is a source of income for more than 500 million smallholder farmers globally. However, commercial agriculture is considered the main driver of deforestation. This tension has been enhanced in the past by conflicting policies (including agricultural subsidies) that promoted increasing agricultural productivity and considered standing forest as “lazy lands” (land with no economic or social value). This led to clearcutting forest to make land “productive”. While this framing has changed, and different instruments have been developed to protect and conserve forests, the expansion of agriculture into forested areas continues. Moreover, both forests and agriculture are highly vulnerable and affected by climate change. Paradoxically at the same time, deforestation, forest degradation and agriculture contribute to about one quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So there is functional interplay among the three domains, as they are all connected in biogeophysical and socio-economic or economical terms. As such, greater coherence can be promoted through improved coordination and integration among the domains.

The global governance systems of forests, agriculture and climate change are characterized by their fragmented nature, that is, an increasing number of institutions governing each domain, a multitude of actors from different spheres of society, and a wide array of norms and discourses. Specifically, this dissertation addresses this fragmentation from a framing perspective. Frames are understood in this dissertation as ‘underlying structures of belief, perception and appreciation’ (Schön and Rein 1994: 23) and framing as ‘...the process by which people develop a particular conceptualization of an issue or reorient their thinking about an issue’ (Chong and Druckman 2007: 104). This dissertation is positioned solidly within global environmental governance research. It aims to further our knowledge of the role of framing in the integration of global governance in the nexus of forests, agriculture and climate change. In order to do so, three research questions are analysed:

RQ1: What efforts have been taken to enhance integration among the forest, agriculture and climate change governance systems and how does framing contribute to the degree of integration?

RQ2: How did forests receive an increasingly prominent place on the global climate change agenda, while agriculture is still lagging behind, and what role has framing played in this degree of integration?

RQ3: How and to what extent has framing played a role in the design and evolution of the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA)?

Different conceptual frameworks are developed in each chapter to answer the research questions. These are encompassed within the Integrative Governance literature and are combined with frame theory elements. The methodologies used involve semi-structured interviews, an international workshop with experts active in one or more of the studied domains, and in-depth literature reviews, content and document analyses.

The dissertation concludes that compatible frames are a precondition for integration.  Compatible frames have the potential to enable integration or at least, not hinder it. Efforts to integrate incompatible frames among domains can result in broad and meaningless agreements, with a significant amount of time and resources invested. Even though the forest, agriculture and climate change governance systems are highly fragmented and encompass multiple frames, actors may attempt to bridge and connect compatible frames among domains. Strategic framing can be used in different ways to enhance integration (e.g. by expanding frames or reframing). Framing is then considered a skill and a necessary quality for actors engaging in integration efforts. The dissertation also presents a model for framing and integration that provides some insights into how framing can be used to enhance or prevent integration. It finalizes with a set of policy recommendations, including the development of a land-use readiness fund and the need to promote approaches outside the intergovernmental frameworks, where different frames are present and the fear of binding commitments does not play a role.  

The dissertation concludes that the fragmentation of global governance is a fact, and incompatible frames are an important factor influencing this fragmentation. Also, while actors may connect compatible frames among domains, these frames will not necessarily support sustainable paths. This dissertation argues that we need to identify and support frames that enhance the desired transformative changes towards sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Arts, Bas, Promotor
  • Visseren-Hamakers, I.J., Promotor
Award date2 Mar 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463952729
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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