This paper analyses the design and implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks, and sustainably managing forests (REDD+) in the West African region, an important global biodiversity area. Drawing on in-depth interviews, analysis of policy documents and observation of everyday activities, we sought to understand how REDD+ has been designed and implemented in Nigeria and Ghana. We draw on political ecology to examine how, and why REDD+ takes the form it does in these countries. We structure our discussion around three key dimensions that emerged as strong areas of common emphasis in our case studies—capacity building, carbon visibility, and property rights. First, we show that while REDD+ design generally foregrounds an ostensible inclusionary politics, its implementation is driven through various forms of exclusion. This contradictory inclusion–exclusion politics, which is partly emblematic of the neoliberal provenance of the REDD+ policy, is also a contingent reality and a strategy for navigating complexities and pursuing certain interests. Second, we show that though the emergent foci of REDD+ implementation in our case studies align with global REDD+ expectations, they still manifest as historically and geographically contingent processes that reflect negotiated and contested relations among actors that constitute the specific national circumstance of each country. We conclude by reflecting on the importance of our findings for understanding REDD+ projects in other tropical countries.
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