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Agrarian scholars tackle climate politics in new (free) book

As world leaders converge for the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), the dominant narrative is focused on technical solutions to climate change. Amidst these discussions, centered on offset markets, carbon capture, and alternative energy technologies, a crucial element remains conspicuously absent: the rural and agrarian dimensions of the climate crisis. This gap is precisely what the new book, Climate Change and Critical Agrarian Studies seeks to fill. Edited by a team of top scholars, this volume brings together peer reviewed articles from a special forum in the Journal of Peasant Studies. It sounds a clarion call for integrating agrarian perspectives into the global climate change strategy. 

Professor Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) at the University of the Western Cape, and editor of JPS, welcomed the publication, announcing that the book, published in London by Routledge, has been made available open access (download here). She said, ‘A rural lens on climate change shows how agrarian populations that are battling climate shocks are also confronted by climate policies which bring new pressures on their land and territory for carbon offsets, for renewable fuels and to mine transition minerals. Such mitigation efforts have provoked a new raft of land grabs around parts of the global South, and expose the injustices of the climate orthodoxy’. This book follows a successful International Conference on Climate Change and Climate Justice which PLAAS co-hosted with JPS last year. 

Climate change, which now poses an existential threat to humanity and to non-human life, is intricately linked to the dynamics of capitalism and industrialisation. Its impact is uneven, disproportionately affecting the countryside and its inhabitants. This volume interrogates the narratives, strategies, and institutional responses to climate change in agrarian settings, showing how different social groups, differentiated by class, gender, race, and other factors, are uniquely affected by climate change and the responses to it. The areas of study range from Colombia, India and Kenya to the Appalachian coalfields in the United States of America. 

This work paints a vivid picture of the rural world’s experience with climate change, marked by both immediate and gradual devastations – from floods and storms to prolonged droughts, immiserisation, migration and chronic mental distress. It criticises the global narratives that often overlook the historical and political drivers of climate change, arguing that these narratives fail to connect climate change to broader challenges of security, survival, and social justice.

One of the book’s central themes is the interplay between capitalism and climate change, particularly in rural areas. It explores how agrarian struggles – for land rights, for livelihoods, for land and food sovereignty – are deeply connected to the climate crisis, highlighting the need for an integrated approach to climate and agrarian justice. The book also scrutinises the political economy of policy responses to climate change, and how these play out in rural areas.


Commenting on this publication, one of its editors, Professor Ian Scoones, writes in his blog: “As well as documenting the devastating and differentiated consequences of the climate crisis, the book also examines the impacts of a growing array of ‘climate solutions’ being deployed in agrarian settings – the many technical fixes being discussed in Dubai. Too often, these are designed simply in terms of the efficacy of global emissions reduction, wrapped up in the policy frameworks of ‘net zero’…, in turn resulting in carbon offsetting schemes, afforestation projects, alternative energy and an array of so-called ‘nature-based’ solutions, as a number of chapters explore. Through displacing responsibility for emissions reductions often to rural areas in far-off places, such approaches act not only to salve the consciences of the polluting elite but impose impacts in rural areas, frequently in the global south. Such interventions thus may have major consequences for rural people, removing land, extracting resources and disciplining recipients as part of project protocols and plans.”


The relevance of this book to COP28 cannot be overstated. As the conference focuses on technical solutions, Climate Change and Critical Agrarian Studies serves as a crucial reminder of the socio-economic realities of rural communities. It argues that any effective global climate strategy must include agrarian perspectives to ensure equitable and comprehensive solutions, and that the voices and realities of those in rural areas must be brought to bear in forging climate justice.

You can download a copy of the whole book, or individual chapters, here: