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Ecological Modernisation and the Governance of Carbon: A Critical Analysis

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In this paper, we use insights derived from a critical evaluation of ecological modernisation theories to examine the origins and influence of new, market-based, forms of carbon governance. Focusing on two key examples—emissions trading in Europe and the global market in offsets—we argue that ecological modernisation theories can help us understand the processes through which the seemingly intractable problem of climate change has been reframed as an opportunity to construct a new carbon economy and anticipate some of the tensions, contradictions and limits of such an approach. We then explore the governance dimensions of these novel market mechanisms, look at how they work, and then discuss whether, to what extent and for whom they work. We highlight a series of (un)-intended consequences that flow from these practices and modes of governing. We conclude by discussing the significance of these observations both for debates on climate change and the governance of carbon and for theories of ecological modernisation.

Keywords: accountability and outcome deficits; carbon markets; climate governance; ecological modernisation; legitimacy; political drivers

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK;, Email: 2: Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK;, Email: 3: School of International Development, University of East Anglia Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK;, Email:

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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