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In this paper, I attempt to answer these questions. To do so, I first briefly discuss the historical trajectory of carbon trading, both theoretically and in terms of practical implementation. Second, I propose a definition of carbon trading dogma specifying its essential elements and situating it against the background of two tendencies in contemporary capitalist development: the progressive cognitization of labour and the pervasive financialization of life.

The paper concludes by pointing out possible lines of further research and political action. To get a rough and ready idea of the evolution of carbon markets, it may be useful to start with some World Bank statistics ; ; ; b; ; ; Surprisingly enough, notwithstanding the deepening of the economic downturn, saw a robust increase in transaction volumes establishing a record high In general terms, although prices have constantly fluctuated, the market trend continued to grow at different paces until Given the current absence of policy alternatives, political expectations remain overly optimistic, and carbon trading is expected to expand.

Regardless of future trends, however, carbon markets catalyse a significant share of economic activity and policy imagination.

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This is rather surprising, given their relatively recent implementation. In fact, although the direct proportionality between the levels of carbon dioxide CO2 in the atmosphere and the surface temperature of the earth was discovered already in , when Svante Arrhenius, drawing on previous speculations by other scientists, gave full account of the greenhouse effect, the emergence of a collective awareness about the damaging potential of global warming arose only in the s Chakrabarty, In , the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro — also known as the Earth Summit — released an international environmental treaty known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC , the objective of which was to stabilise GHG concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climatic system.

Since the treaty entered into force in , the signatory states have been meeting annually in Conferences of the Parties COP to assess progress in the field of global climate policy. As the first legally binding agreement on climate change, the KP provides that the 37 Annex I countries or the so-called developed nations commit themselves to a reduction of six GHGs 5. The KP is intended to achieve emissions reductions through a variety of approaches: promoting international cooperation and substantial technology transfers; intervening at the source by means of energy saving and energy efficiency strategies; and accounting for emissions sequestration performed by natural carbon sinks.

However, its crucial innovation is carbon trading, i. In fact, under the powerful political pressure exercised by the US delegation — led by then Vice-President Al Gore — the parties agreed to structure both the design and the implementation of the KP around three market-led approaches, termed flexibility mechanisms : i Emissions Trading ET , namely a cap-and-trade system in which governmental authorities set emission caps and private companies exchange permits and credits; ii Joint Implementation JI , a regulative system for exchanges amongst Annex I countries; and iii Clean Development Mechanism CDM , the function of which is to indirectly include Annex II countries in global carbon markets.

These objectives, however, never materialized. There is an abundant body of literature on the flaws of the KP both internal and external to its own logic. Even the World Bank a reported that the KP has had only a slight effect on curbing emissions increase. Moreover, it has been noted that cap-and-trade systems — amongst which the most relevant is the EU ETS European Union Emissions Trading System have proved slightly resilient only because of grandfathering , i. Furthermore, recurrent fraud seems to be plaguing the design and implementation of CDM projects: accountability is an obvious difficulty, and corruption has been widespread Lohmann, a.

Even the COP 21 Paris Agreement, elaborated in , is more likely to expand rather than decommission carbon markets Marcu, To explain this insistence on carbon trading as an exclusive policy option, it may be useful to refer to the two registers of the climate change debate. Allow me to elaborate by way of a recent example.

No one is immune from climate change, not even this UN HQ, which were flooded during super-storm Sandy. We must invest in climate resilient societies that protect all, especially the most vulnerable. I ask all governments to commit to a meaningful climate agreement in Paris in His reference to Sandy — which killed more than people in the Caribbean and the east coast of the US in October — is especially interesting given the particular way American media covered it. Sandy hit the US just a few days before the presidential elections. In keeping with the political mood of the campaign Obama vs.

Romney which was astoundingly silent about global warming the first time since that climate change was not mentioned in the electoral debates , the mainstream media refused to link Sandy — and more generally the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events — to anthropogenic climate change.

Lessons from Regulating Carbon Offset Markets

Journalist Paul Barrett initially discusses a series of scientific data which suggest a direct correlation between human activity and climate modifications. This is the first register of the global warming debate: it concerns mainly the issue of whether or not the root cause of climatic imbalances is anthropogenic. My reflection here does not address this problematic: although climate science should not be regarded as the guardian of an eternal and indisputable truth, scientific as well as experiential evidence supporting the human-induced nature of climate change is today so abundant that controversies refer more to its specific configurations than to its actual existence Oreskes and Conway, And it is here that what I call the carbon trading dogma comes into full view.

This dogma is an extremely entrenched — albeit empirically unprovable — political belief that climate change, although a market failure the environment was never properly accounted for by the price-system , can be viably solved only by a wave of further marketization. Barrett articulates the shift from the first to the second register by declaring:.

Listen instead to corporate insurers committed to compiling statistics for profit. Barrett, 7.


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Barrett then cites a report issued by the financial re-insurance company Munich: Re, according to which climate change is causing a rising number of natural catastrophes, especially in North America. His conclusion is peremptory: if financial analysts believe climate change is occurring, then there is no point in questioning it anymore.

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But you must believe in markets! In the context of potentially catastrophic global warming, such a market-based regime of truth gives rise to a dogmatic equation — as discursively indisputable as it is empirically unprovable — that, elaborating on recent work by Larry Lohmann c , might be defined as follows:.

The circular logic of the carbon trading dogma makes any alternative unthinkable: like any religious dogma, the confirmation of its truth claims is already contained in its fundamental assumption: since there is no effective politics outside of the market, global warming is solvable only in so far as it is possible to make a profit out of it.


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The circular nature of the carbon trading dogma and its extreme entrenchment, however, are not sufficient to properly grasp the historical novelty it represents. In fact, its evolution needs to be situated in the context of the two elements that characterise the current, neoliberal tendency of capitalist development: the emergence of new forms of valorization and exploitation, which can be defined as cognitive capitalism ; and the rise of financialization as the most pervasive governmental dispositif.

It is at the very centre of the production process Lucarelli and Vercellone, It is, in other terms, the fundamental productive factor, such that the economy can be said to rely on the production of knowledge by means of knowledge. This is a circular process whereby the output constantly regenerates the input through relatively cheap innovation based on seemingly endless reproducibility. Such a formulation implies an understanding of the general intellect as the organising principle of contemporary production. By transposing such reflections on the global warming terrain, it is possible to realize how the very visibility of climate change relies on complex, contested and always re-negotiable knowledge infrastructures.

As historian Paul Edwards argued:. In this sense, to experience a global warming event as such presupposes the infrastructural support of climate science. Obviously, this dependence on knowledge does not make climate change any less concrete or material, both in the individuation of its multiple causes and in the destructiveness of its heterogeneous effects. As for the financialization aspect of the contemporary capitalistic tendency, I propose to approach financialization as a governmental dispositif and to uncover its affinity with carbon trading, as a particular yet dominant form of climate policy.

The outcome of this process is an unprecedented dependence on unstable markets and volatile money for everything from food supplies to services, from education to income. Granted, finance has been a feature of the capitalist mode of production since its beginnings; nonetheless, the current configuration of finance is qualitatively and quantitatively unique, unprecedented in its extent, with a massive proliferation of sophisticated and opaque financial tools such as derivatives, Credit Default Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligation.

These technologies represent an immensely complicated and coordinated attempt to make profit out of the financial colonization of every aspect of social life. In general, we are witnessing the deployment of a veritable mode of governing through instability , an expansion of financial reason to society as a whole Lucarelli, The very concept of accumulation of capital was transformed. It no longer consists, as in the Fordist period, of investment in constant and variable capital wage , but rather of investment in apparatuses of producing and capturing value created outside directly productive processes.

What needs to be emphasized is that in both cases, such instability does not result from the imperfect application of otherwise correct protocols. Rather, it is a necessary condition for the production of these particular commodities. The double perspective provided by cognitive capitalism and financial governmentality is useful in addressing the following question: Why are policy makers so reliant on carbon markets when empirical evidence suggests that they do not work? In fact, their peculiar failure can be expressed through a curious paradox: from an ecological point of view — the environmental degradation that carbon trading is supposed to solve through the reduction of GHGs emissions to slow down global warming — it is fair to say that carbon markets are useless when not nefarious.

Quite simply, they do not achieve the expected results or, worse, actually prevent such achievements from occurring. Here again, we see how uncertainty and instability act as governmental tools to manage socio-environmental dynamics. There seems to be a manifest disconnect between the environmental goal and the economic means of carbon trading.

In fact, under the powerful political pressure exercised by the US delegation — led by then Vice-President Al Gore — the parties agreed to structure both the design and the implementation of the KP around three market-led approaches, termed flexibility mechanisms : i Emissions Trading ET , namely a cap-and-trade system in which governmental authorities set emission caps and private companies exchange permits and credits; ii Joint Implementation JI , a regulative system for exchanges amongst Annex I countries; and iii Clean Development Mechanism CDM , the function of which is to indirectly include Annex II countries in global carbon markets.

These objectives, however, never materialized. There is an abundant body of literature on the flaws of the KP both internal and external to its own logic. Even the World Bank a reported that the KP has had only a slight effect on curbing emissions increase. Moreover, it has been noted that cap-and-trade systems — amongst which the most relevant is the EU ETS European Union Emissions Trading System have proved slightly resilient only because of grandfathering , i. Furthermore, recurrent fraud seems to be plaguing the design and implementation of CDM projects: accountability is an obvious difficulty, and corruption has been widespread Lohmann, a.

Even the COP 21 Paris Agreement, elaborated in , is more likely to expand rather than decommission carbon markets Marcu, To explain this insistence on carbon trading as an exclusive policy option, it may be useful to refer to the two registers of the climate change debate. Allow me to elaborate by way of a recent example. No one is immune from climate change, not even this UN HQ, which were flooded during super-storm Sandy. We must invest in climate resilient societies that protect all, especially the most vulnerable. I ask all governments to commit to a meaningful climate agreement in Paris in His reference to Sandy — which killed more than people in the Caribbean and the east coast of the US in October — is especially interesting given the particular way American media covered it.

Sandy hit the US just a few days before the presidential elections.

Money laundering scandal could finish off carbon trading

In keeping with the political mood of the campaign Obama vs. Romney which was astoundingly silent about global warming the first time since that climate change was not mentioned in the electoral debates , the mainstream media refused to link Sandy — and more generally the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events — to anthropogenic climate change. Journalist Paul Barrett initially discusses a series of scientific data which suggest a direct correlation between human activity and climate modifications.

This is the first register of the global warming debate: it concerns mainly the issue of whether or not the root cause of climatic imbalances is anthropogenic. My reflection here does not address this problematic: although climate science should not be regarded as the guardian of an eternal and indisputable truth, scientific as well as experiential evidence supporting the human-induced nature of climate change is today so abundant that controversies refer more to its specific configurations than to its actual existence Oreskes and Conway, And it is here that what I call the carbon trading dogma comes into full view.

This dogma is an extremely entrenched — albeit empirically unprovable — political belief that climate change, although a market failure the environment was never properly accounted for by the price-system , can be viably solved only by a wave of further marketization. Barrett articulates the shift from the first to the second register by declaring:. Listen instead to corporate insurers committed to compiling statistics for profit. Barrett, 7. Barrett then cites a report issued by the financial re-insurance company Munich: Re, according to which climate change is causing a rising number of natural catastrophes, especially in North America.

His conclusion is peremptory: if financial analysts believe climate change is occurring, then there is no point in questioning it anymore. But you must believe in markets! In the context of potentially catastrophic global warming, such a market-based regime of truth gives rise to a dogmatic equation — as discursively indisputable as it is empirically unprovable — that, elaborating on recent work by Larry Lohmann c , might be defined as follows:. The circular logic of the carbon trading dogma makes any alternative unthinkable: like any religious dogma, the confirmation of its truth claims is already contained in its fundamental assumption: since there is no effective politics outside of the market, global warming is solvable only in so far as it is possible to make a profit out of it.

The circular nature of the carbon trading dogma and its extreme entrenchment, however, are not sufficient to properly grasp the historical novelty it represents. In fact, its evolution needs to be situated in the context of the two elements that characterise the current, neoliberal tendency of capitalist development: the emergence of new forms of valorization and exploitation, which can be defined as cognitive capitalism ; and the rise of financialization as the most pervasive governmental dispositif.

It is at the very centre of the production process Lucarelli and Vercellone, It is, in other terms, the fundamental productive factor, such that the economy can be said to rely on the production of knowledge by means of knowledge. This is a circular process whereby the output constantly regenerates the input through relatively cheap innovation based on seemingly endless reproducibility. Such a formulation implies an understanding of the general intellect as the organising principle of contemporary production. By transposing such reflections on the global warming terrain, it is possible to realize how the very visibility of climate change relies on complex, contested and always re-negotiable knowledge infrastructures.

As historian Paul Edwards argued:. In this sense, to experience a global warming event as such presupposes the infrastructural support of climate science.