Most environmental issues and initiatives that emerged in the twentieth century were shaped by or against economies driven by capitalist markets, but no initiative has so explicitly been made into a market as recent efforts to address the problem of anthropogenic climate change. Amid the growing concern over global climate change and much finger pointing among environmentalists at the oil industry and global energy producers, the main solution to global warming has been pushed along by some of these same producers and business interests. Carbon trading had its origins in the 1970s and 1980s and received renewed attention in the 1990s. In the Kyoto Protocol a system for counting and trading carbon credits constituted an essential component, along with a more traditional approach of capping carbon emissions at certain levels. The Kyoto Protocol contained a template for the structure of an international market—and simultaneously made assumptions about carbon governance on an international scale. The lack of support from the United States for the Kyoto Protocol has meant that its approach has had limited success. Yet a market in carbon credits has developed among private companies in the United States and has formed part of the approach to carbon emission reduction by national and regional bodies elsewhere. Carbon trading schemes have sometimes reinforced international environmental governance schemes and sometimes subverted them; they have sometimes given nations of the Global North another means to exploit the Global South; and they have sometimes created opportunities for a climate change subaltern to leverage power against those nations who have dominated climate change policy.

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