The widespread transformation of environmental governance and conservation is advancing across the globe. The market is prioritized as the singular site and principle for human–environment relationship by so-called green initiatives that claim to solve myriad environmental problems. This transformation has been the focus of significant engagement in political ecology. Yet this engagement has so far accorded only scant efforts to assess how far plans and discourses of this emergent global transformation are being translated into reality on the ground, and, if so, as planned. We argue that closer attention is needed to such issues, echoing an earlier concern in policy implementation studies to gauge how far and in what ways this globally articulated transformation is in fact operationalized. Using an example of a carbon scheme in Nigeria, we show the disjuncture between globally dispatched plans and local realities, which are much messier than commonly assumed by both proponents and critics. We infuse the terrain of political ecology with insights from implementation studies. We thus propose an understanding of these initiatives as ‘floating symbols’, highlighting their ambiguous and conflictual attributes, their particular mode of articulation with locales, and their minimal realization and variegated impact. We argue that, by deepening critical engagement along these lines, political ecology could further contribute to wider efforts to understand and go beyond the failing superimposition of capital over nature in the emergent transformation.