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At Your Own Peril: Climate Change As Risky Business

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The future is uncertain. That means it serves as a blank canvas ready to be appropriated by political entrepreneurs for particular purposes. This article provides a snapshot of how risk and uncertainty are used discursively by the nascent fossil fuel divestment movement. In order to penetrate the world of financial players, the movement aims to redefine the nature and meaning of risk with regard to climate change as an economic phenomenon. Having originated in 2011, fossil fuel divestment aims to pressure investors to withdraw funds from the fossil fuel industry. Based on the notion that international climate targets are subject to a remaining carbon budget, the divestment movement has thus argued that a large percentage of fossil fuel assets are economically worthless investments. The contention of this study is that fossil fuel divestment represents to some extent a new form of climate activism. In employing particular discursive practices and narratives, the movement aims to make both a business as well as a moral case. The focus here will lie on how risk serves as a central narrative underpinning the political strategies employed. The implication is that the risk of inaction is associated with concrete investor losses, which runs counter to more traditional conceptions of the macroeconomics of climate change. This strategy therefore represents a departure from other forms of climate activism which focus on pressuring governments or are based on immediate cooperation with business actors.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2017

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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