By the time the Kyoto Protocol had been agreed in 1997, it had become absolutely normal to think that the appropriate way to deal with climate change is not so much to focus on restricting fossil fuel use, but on the creation of markets. Governments, international organisations and private actors were all focused on the creation of markets for emissions, of new or expanding markets for renewable energy technologies and of new investment opportunities.
Shortly afterwards, the term 'carbon market' was coined to describe the totality of these sorts of approaches to climate change. What they have in common is that they all turn carbon into a commodity that can be traded. Neoliberalism had definitively placed its stamp on the character of climate politics: its market-orientation; the opportunities it creates for finance to invest in a variety of new markets; its struggle to deal with the global inequalities it generates; and its organisation through fluid networks rather than traditional hierarchies.
Meanwhile, however, global capitalism has continued as normal. Neither the development of ideas about climate change, nor the novel sorts of policy developed to deal with it, have yet had any significant impact on emissions levels. Global carbon emissions continue to grow, largely in line with global GDP. Many states and businesses still take no account of climate change in their routine planning, and assume that the future will look largely like the past, that is, based fundamentally on growth in fossil fuel consumption. Some states seem to have started on a path of decarbonisation, but even they have only been able to do so stimulated by external accidents. In the UK, for example, often taken as a leader in climate policy, emissions have gone down principally because of the 'dash for gas' in the early 1990s, triggered by electricity privatisation and the Thatcher government's determination to break the power of the unions by taking on the striking coal miners. Another leader, Germany, was helped greatly by reunification of East and West in 1990, and the collapse of East German industry that followed. The current obsession with 'energy security' in the USA is another possible accident that could trigger investment in renewables and energy efficiency (alternatively, it could stimulate investment in offshore oil drilling and tar sands). But while there are some leaders, others resolutely follow the 'carboniferous' approach, digging up 'ancient sunlight' to promote economic growth, and new poles of growth such as in China and India dwarf efforts of
some countries and businesses to limit emissions. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the World Bank's lending for energy projects continues to go to fossil fuels, despite the organisation having made a pitch to play a positive role in leading responses to climate change.37
This history provokes a number of questions. If business actors are newly empowered under neoliberalism, how have they responded to the challenge of climate change? How do the approaches of different parts of business vary? How has business changed position since the early years of climate politics? These are questions we turn to in the next chapter.
37 WRI, 'Correcting the World's greatest market failure: Climate change and multilateral development banks' (2008). See http://www.wri.org/publication/ correcting-the-worlds-greatest-market-failure; WWF-UK, 'The World Bank and its carbon footprint: why the World Bank is still far from being an environment bank' (2008). See http://www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/world_bank_report.pdf.
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