Politicians the world over are coming to realise that climate change is an imminent problem facing humanity. These challenges bring together concerns for the relationship of humans to nature, the responsibility of the richer nations to the poorer, the effect of local activities on global conditions and the responsibility of current generations to future ones. Liverman (2009) identifies three key narratives that frame international response to these issues – the first is the assertion that dangerous climate change must be avoided, secondly that the responsibility for climate change is common but differentiated and finally that the market is the best means to deal with this imminent crisis. These narratives are given great discursive power in conventions addressing this issue and have an enormous influence in shaping political strategies. For this blog I aim to address some of the problems involved in the use of the market as a mechanism to deal with climate change.
The dominant ways of understanding climate change, outlined above, have removed this issue from the wider contestation of social and environmental relations. These debates have abstracted processes, such as global warming and CO2 emissions, from the unequal social and environmental relations on which neo-liberal globalisation is grounded, even going so far as to propose the market as a mechanism to deal with these induced problems. The unequal relations produced through neo-liberal globalization have long been questioned by the counter globalisation movement, which demonstrates that it is possible to make power relations that underpin neo-liberal globalisation localisable and contestable (Featherstone, 2013). Like neo-liberal globalisation climate change has come to be seen as a consensual, post-political issue. There is a need to challenge this post political view of dealing with climate change that tends to ignore the injustices that underlay the production and impacts of climate change.
Carbon trading (a market mechanism) is a method induced by the Kyoto Protocol to deal with and mitigate the effects of climate change (Bond, 2012). This method been described as a form of neo-colonialism whereby rich countries are able to maintain their consumption patterns by paying a minimal sum to poorer countries to invest in activities such as growing trees, thus ‘offsetting’ or making up for their emissions. At the same time these poorer countries are unable to develop their own infrastructure as they are not able to subsidise their own emissions.
As this market solution to mitigating climate change was proposed by a select few powerful individuals and states it is no wonder their interests have been better served and that only very modest reductions in carbon have been proposed and achieved. Loopholes and manipulations continue to pop up in this method through which some countries are able to accumulate vast amounts of carbon credits, thus allowing them to make a profit from them. In turn those who are not willing to reduce their emissions are able to buy these credits and feel justified to continue emitting as they please. Thus the large corporations who are generally the highest emitters are able to buy their way out of trouble. Another way of dealing with this is for these companies to simply account for these costs by upping their prices, thus ultimately transferring their responsibility onto the consumer without needing to change their practices or policies at all.
This market mechanism narrative can be seen to simply have created a new commodity to be traded that continues to create and reinforce unequal relationships of power. There is even question on the scale of how much emissions are being reduced, if any at all. All in all, I see this market driven response to the challenge of climate change as an ineffective mechanism that generates more problems than it answers. For me a simple question to be answered is: should our focus be on people or the market?
Bond, P. 2012. Emissions Trading, New Enclosures and Eco-Social Contestation. Antipode, 44(3): 684-701.
Liverman, D. 2009. Conventions of climate change: constructions of danger and the dispossession of the atmosphere. Journal of Historical Geography, 35: 279-296.
Featherstone, D. 2013. The contested politics of climate change and the crisis of neoliberalism. ACME. 12(1): 44-64