Making a Market? Contestation and Climate Change

By Pearse, Rebecca | Journal of Australian Political Economy, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Making a Market? Contestation and Climate Change

Pearse, Rebecca, Journal of Australian Political Economy

In the last two decades political contestation over climate change generally, and climate policy specifically, has been waged over the merits, design and implementation of market-based regulatory mechanisms. This includes emissions trading, carbon taxation and various voluntary measures. Emissions trading has been at the centre of national and international debates with the provision for emissions trading and other supporting 'Flexible Mechanisms' in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In turn, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) was installed in 2005 alongside a range of smaller schemes by state and corporate enterprises mostly in OECD nations. (1) Multi-lateral and bilateral agreements between states and public-private partnerships are also a distinct feature of the push toward carbon markets. (2) Thus, in no small way does climate governance constitute the process of installing new markets for capital accumulation. In fact, amidst the fragmenting nature of the governance processes, it seems only one common thread remains: the commitment to market-based initiatives.

However, the market-oriented machinations of climate governance are not a uniform phenomenon spreading in a linear fashion from global to local contexts. The waxing and waning potential for a global integrated market in tradeable greenhouse gas emission rights is a case in point. Major compliance schemes in the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia are on the back-burner. Carbon markets are being established in a haphazard fashion, dampening the hopes for globally integrated market. At best the future of the market will entail cooperative fragmentation and at worst, markets will be siloed in disjointed schemes (Flaschland et al. 2010). There are a number of factors hindering the pace and reach of carbon markets across most regions. Focusing on contestation, this paper draws out the interplay between three collective social formations seeking sway over climate governance.

I make the case that there is permeability and variability in the neo-liberal climate project that brings both hope and a distinct analytic challenge to political scientists and movement actors alike. Given that debate, negotiation and outcomes in regard to market-based policy are fragmented, at times contradictory, and highly contested, how do we explain the sustained but duplicitous faith in the market to deliver ecological outcomes? Where is there space in the political fields of climate governance to realise non-market alternatives? This paper's analytic focus straddles political economic questions concerning new market creation and sociological interpretations of political contestation. Neo-Gramscian insights (Carroll 2007, 2009; Gill 1995a, 2008) into the nature of politics and hegemony are enlisted. I outline three political orientations taken to be in a war of position over climate governance: climate markets, climate action and climate justice. After outlining an analytic framework in the next section, the following three sections delineate the philosophy of praxis underpinning these three orientations in the struggle over climate governance.

This work draws on existing case studies of corporate/state networks and social movement activity, as well as my observations as a researcher and participant in the Australian climate movement. (3) The typology of political orientations I identify, are conceived as underpinning three core discourses in climate debates (see Table 1). Each of these orientations faces a dilemma. The hegemony of market 'solutions' for climate change mitigation is far from complete. The transnational coalition of actors championing carbon markets faces the challenge of legitimacy in the political field. The alliances of non-government organisations and community groups calling for climate action face the dilemma of compromise. Wedged between the market and the state, the strategies and normative agenda of this significant portion of global civil society appear to be tilted to the right (Carroll 2007; Lipschutz 2005), confirming the commitment to inadequate emissions reduction targets and market-based policy. …

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