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Über dieses Buch

This book presents the results of the first full-scale emissions trading schemes in Australia and internationally, arguing these schemes will not be sufficient to 'civilize markets' and prevent dangerous climate change. Instead, it articulates the ways climate policy needs to confront the collective nature of our predicament.




The research for and writing of this book coincided with two important events in Australian climate-change policy. The book’s final sections were written in mid-2014, as the Liberal National Coalition completed its repeal of a carbon-pricing package that had been years in the making. The centrepiece of this package, passed in 2012 by the Australian Labor Party minority government with the Greens, had been the introduction of a greenhouse-gas emissions trading scheme. The passage of this legislation was important because it was the first time Australia had a coordinated set of national regulations designed to restrain greenhouse-gas emissions, culminating two decades of debate about such economic and environmental measures (Wilkenfeld, 2007).

Declan Kuch

1. The Rise of Emissions Trading as a Market Mechanism and the Promise of ‘Civilized Markets’

Who and what makes a difference to contemporary markets? The unnerving sense of collective disaster around crossing the two-degree Celsius ‘guardrail’ of global-warming emissions puts this question into stark relief: Can carbon markets save us by ‘civilizing markets’, as many hope, or are they part of the infrastructure that will hurtle us over the guardrail as critics have feared? The alluring promise of carbon pricing to civilize otherwise barbarically destructive tendencies in capitalism has achieved a near hegemonic status in climate-policy circles, leading to major experiments with carbon emissions trading schemes (ETS) at city, regional, national and international levels in places such as Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, and at the city level in Asia.

Declan Kuch

2. Marketizing Civil Regulation: Acid Rain Regulation as the Experimental Bridge to Carbon Markets

The conventional history of emissions trading underpinning debate about carbon emissions trading begins in the 1960s with American attacks on inflexible, ‘command and control’ regulations. This chapter challenges this reading of regulatory history, placing these developments in a longer history of pollution control whereby law and science interact to shift problems created by industry. A crucial change from the nineteenth-century to twentieth-century regimes of acid regulation was the shift in prominence from civil society and associated experts using moral language, on the one hand, to economic expertise claiming to operate on the basis of efficiency, on the other. This was not a shift from ‘command and control’ to markets, but rather one form of governmentality to another in the sense that cost began to figure increasingly in rationales for government action.

Declan Kuch

3. Governing Carbon Emissions: NSW GGAS

Electricity production in Australia was progressively reformatted according to neo-liberal theories of self-correcting market efficiency throughout the 1990s. The resulting National Electricity Market (NEM) promised to eliminate the wastefulness and bureaucratic excesses of state bureaucratic regimes that were thought to be pandering to a narrow set of industrial concerns, and at great fiscal risk to state treasuries. The creation of a market around the kilowatt hour price of electricity was designed to replace expert bureaucratic judgements about electricity investment with the transparency of a price.

Declan Kuch

4. The Technopolitics of National Carbon Accounts

Technopolitics of classification is sorely lacking in much climate policy analysis. Policy details matter much more than the headline figures of emissions-reduction numbers imply. These numbers wrongly presume a common and agreed calculative ‘frame’, to use Michel Callon’s term for the often-unstated infrastructure of economic exchanges. This chapter explains how land-use calculation relies upon decisions and judgements. For this reason, the rationalist dream of a decisively framed global ‘nature’ against which a global carbon price can be calibrated is inherently political. Furthermore, rationalists’ reliance on a misguided concept of nature obscures expert judgements and the very practice of making the world accountable. In exploring the decisions required to make land-use change accountable, this chapter shows how the politics of the Kyoto Protocol are not reducible to pre-existing social interests on one side and natural representations (especially of trees) on the other, as assumed by many liberal commentators; but, rather, this politics involves social-group formation around issues.

Declan Kuch

5. ‘Economists in the Wild’: Clean Development and the Global Politics of Carbon Offsets

Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) were the key offset mechanisms developed following the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. They emerged in the year 2000 as a compromise between the industrialized countries’ fear of costly mitigation targets and developing countries’ demands for technology transfer, development aid and an insistence that financial penalties be imposed on any industrialized country that exceeded its emissions targets.

Declan Kuch

6. The Paradox of Measurable Counterfactuals and the Fall of Emissions Trading

What we want to stress is the epistemological ambivalence and the contradictions of neo-liberalism — the ways that the fallibility of expert knowledge are alternately highlighted and downplayed — are marshalled as a vital defence mechanism against unwanted governmental intervention. (Davies and McGoey, 2012: 73)

If we remain stuck in the short time frame of the now we are also likely to become bereft in the imagination of futures. (Back and Puwar, 2012: 8)

Counterfactuals are speculations about the future; literally thought experiments in possibility. At base they are ‘if X then Y statements’. In this sense, they are essential inputs to and outputs from economic modelling: potential futures must be speculated upon to make them calculable. Modellers themselves are all too aware of the limits of their tools; however, these tools must be understood by policymakers who have their own agendas and rationales (MacKenzie, 1983). The paradox of measurable counterfactuals lies in the ambivalent epistemology of emissions reductions against some imagined ‘command-and-control’ future. At base, the paradox is:

The emissions reductions are objective and therefore beyond politics.… We agreed on how to measure the Baseline against which emissions are to be reduced.

Declan Kuch

Conclusion: Beyond 8%: Resituating Emissions Trading

The case studies of emissions trading schemes in the preceding chapters have all been remarkably resistant to the kinds of civilizing processes proposed by Callon. Scheme after scheme has seen caps on carbon undermined by weak targets or overly generous offset provisions. The Australian federal government’s baseline-and-credit ‘Direct Action’ policy passed in October 2014 is the latest example of this tendency. This policy seems to have unlearned the last two decades of climate policy, reverting to an effectively voluntary scheme similar to the predecessor of the NSW scheme discussed in Chapter 3. The policy sets sectoral baselines at the highest historic point of emissions, rather than using best-available technology standards. This decision will create windfall gains for business-as-usual fluctuations in emissions and improvements in technology, whilst the limited financial consequences for non-participation will allow the biggest polluters in a field to continue polluting (Green, 2014). Furthermore, the EU appears firmly mired in the ambition paradox discussed in Chapter 6. The latest target designed to stimulate demand for the EU emissions trading is likely to be a cakewalk, according to the European civil society organization Sandbag’s October 2014 analysis.1

Declan Kuch


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