Sunday, 14 September 2008

Climate change and market madness

On Friday the Guardian reported that many of Britain's most polluting companies will reap hundreds if millions of pounds from a scheme which is supposed to cut carbon emissions. The European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the only large scale carbon trading scheme currently in existence. For those who are a bit hazy about what carbon trading is, here's an explanation from WDM [pdf]:
"The idea is that reductions in carbon emissions are easier and cheaper for some businesses to make than others. By issuing emissions permits each year, which are gradually reduced over time, but which can also be bought and sold, governments can in theory achieve an overall reduction in carbon emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy."
The ETS currently covers large industrial emitters like factories and power stations, and there are plans to include airlines in a few years time. One of the loopholes in the ETS brought about by corporate lobbying is the widespread over-allocation of emissions permits. According to the Guardian, one company, Castle Cement, stands to make £83.5m over five years thanks to over-allocation. 

The whole notion of carbon trading is based on the belief that the market is the best vehicle for delivering any goal. Thanks to the dominance of neoliberalism amongst global elites for the last 30 years, regulation is just not considered possible. It might, after all, effect the continued growth of the economy. 

This kow-towing to corporate interests has been too readily accepted by the environmental movement. While some groups simply have no critique of corporate power (let alone capitalism), others do, but believe that climate change is so urgent and so dangerous that we have to accept whatever is on offer. This latest revelation is yet more evidence that market mechanisms increase the wealth and power of corporations which have been largely responsible for the climate crisis in the first place. Add in the fact that in the first two years of the ETS' existence (2005-7), carbon emissions in the EU continued to increase, and the global elite's response to climate change starts to look similar to E.ON's response to high fuel prices and the prospect of a cold winter: "More money for us".

I was in a conference in Bangkok earlier this year which brought together people from social movements and radical NGOs to talk about 'climate justice', an approach which entails a direct challenge to the corporate capture of the climate change issue. With a coming global recession, high fuel prices and the reality (not just the threat) of climate change now facing us, it ought to be possible to put rolling back neoliberalism back on the agenda. The first step is for more organisations to have the guts to talk about.

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