Fictitious Carbon, Fictitious Change? Environmental Implications of the Commodification of Carbon

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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Governments increasingly rely on the use of market instruments to tackle climate change and help decarbonize a deeply fossil fuel-dependent economy. This dissertation examines this trend as one instance of the ‘commodification of carbon’, or the process through which emission reductions are made into commodities and then traded on the market. It engages the commodification framework and related theoretical perspectives to scrutinize the environmental outcomes that market instruments engender, and how these can be theorized. Three cases are examined: the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, the Flemish tradable green certificate scheme, and Trees for Global Benefits, a community-based offsetting project situated in western Uganda. The environmental outcomes of each of these cases can be summarized by pointing to the specific spatiotemporal dynamics that they (re)produce. On the one hand, this dissertation shows that market instruments are prone to problem displacement because of the broader socioeconomic imperatives within which they operate. On the other hand, it argues for recognition of the specific temporality that is implied when environmental regulation is subsumed to market dynamics. Because of their prioritization of the cheapest and easiest solutions, market instruments bring the pace and form of decarbonization in line with what is deemed economically feasible, rather than with what is scientifically necessary. It is argued that this occurs at least in part because of the way that market instruments interact with the conditioning effects of our wider socioecological surroundings, specifically the way in which social power is materialized in the contemporary fossil fuel landscape. Due recognition of these dynamics offers insights on the political role that market instruments fulfill, why such instruments prove to be so popular, and what the conditions are for developing feasible alternatives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Human Geography
  • Clark, Eric, Supervisor
  • Baeten, Guy, Supervisor
Award date2016 Sept 23
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-7623-908-7
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-7623-909-4
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2016-09-23
Time: 10:15
Place: Världen, Geocentrum I, Sölvegatan 10, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Castree, Noel
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Wollongong

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Human Geography

Free keywords

  • commodification
  • climate change policy
  • emissions trading
  • market instruments
  • environmental geography


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