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A Geopolitics’ Approach to the Climate Change Regime: how making sense of sustainable development unwraps the Clean Development Mechanism

The paper argues that to understand the issues and problems we witness today within the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), it is essential to not only look at the container for these problems – the UNFCCC, but also the broader regime of practice, the Climate Change Regime. The paper offers an in-depth and detailed analysis of how this regime came to form and the social, political and economic relations that produced such a Regime. It therefore adopts a geopolitical historical analysis of how the Regime came to form dating back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and its wider context just prior to this meeting. This analysis charts the fundamental values and norms which formed the basis of this Regime, namely Sustainable Development. The paper develops the argument that Sustainable Development has been adopted by the Regime and moulded in such a way that it has been reduced to weak ‘greenspeak’ rather than as a proactive and effective concept to deal with the adaptation and mitigation of Climate Change.

The paper aims to refocus the (very)-critical literature on carbon markets, from market orientated critique to a critique of the social, political and economic relations which produced the framework for which that market operates. The research is based on an extensive review of the literature, interviews with key people both directly and indirectly involved in the Climate Change Regime, and finally an extensive empirical analysis of the global flows of transactions within the CDM of financial investments and credits. This empirical analysis also builds up the global picture of networking actors and the key people/companies involved. This method of analysis also challenges the climate ‘justice’ and ‘equity’ literature, and calls for a refocus within this literary domain to concentrate on the co-operating actors in the north and the south, rather than describing a clear unequal transaction between the rich ‘north’ and the poor ‘south’. Instead, the paper argues that the Climate Change Regime facilitates the transaction of finance and resources between very rich and powerful elites in both the ‘north’ and the ‘south’, and that this represents a strategically planned stimulus for new form of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) between OECD countries and the BICS (Brazil, India, China, South Africa) after the weakening of FDI in the 1970/80s. The paper concludes by detailing the key flaws with the CDM and possible solutions for the UNFCCC Climate Change Regime. It ultimately calls for absolute action by member states rather than differentiated responsibility which allows ‘vacuums of responsibility’ to emerge which can be all to readily filled by powerful interests (of finance for example) and negative incentives. In terms of Sustainable Development, the focus should stay on the concept as it’s fundamentally a good concept, however, its goal and methodology should return to its vigorous roots and demanding roots – this concept needs serious re-engagement if it’s going to be a truly effective tool. The Climate Change Regime and its agent of action – the UNFCCC, must discipline the negotiations so that competition between states is channelled for genuine solutions, rather than counterproductive or stagnating mechanisms. It has a tendency to neglect and under-represent those members who are financially inferior or geopolitically irrelevant.

The research, although is focused on the CDM, aims to be a warning and a guide to the Climate Change Regime at present and for similar policies such as REDD. The response to Climate Change is understandably and by its very nature an ever-evolving learning-curve. Therefore it is important to be flexible and reflexive in that response, and not dogmatic and uniform.

Download the paper here.

Contact the author at: [email protected]


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