Carbon Trading: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives on the Genesis of the Market Mechanisms in the International Climate Regime

Term Paper, 2009

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Abstract

2. Zusammenfassung

3. Introduction

4. Neo-Gramscian Perspectives

5. The market mechanisms in the international climate regime

6. Carbon trading in neo-Gramscian perspectives

7. Conclusion

8. References

1. Abstract

Carbon Trading: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives on the Genesis of the Market Mechanisms in the International Climate Regime

This paper examines whether neo-Gramscian perspectives can explain the genesis of the three market mechanisms in the international climate regime, which are emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI).
As far as I know no other article examined exactly this question before. After the description of the theory and a short introduction of these tools with their advantages and drawbacks, the history of the market mechanisms is explained in order to see whether the case goes hand in hand with the neo-Gramscian perspectives. The result is that these approaches can perfectly explain the genesis of the market mechanisms although a very little number of facts could maybe better explained with a governmentality approach.

2. Zusammenfassung

Emissionshandel: Neo-Gramscianische Perspektiven auf die Entstehung der Marktmechanismen im internationalen Klimaregime

Dieser Aufsatz untersucht ob neo-Gramscianische Perspektiven die Entstehungsgeschichte der drei Marktmechanismen im internationalen Klimaregime (Emissionshandel, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) und Joint Implementation (JI)) erklären können. Nach meinem Kenntnisstand hat noch kein anderer Artikel explizit diese Frage untersucht. Nach der Beschreibung der Theorie und einer Erklärung der Mechanismen mit ihren Vor- und Nachteilen wird die Geschichte der Marktmechanismen dargelegt und dabei untersucht ob sie mit den neo-Gramscianischen Ansätzen konform geht. Das Ergebnis ist, das die neo-Gramscianischen Theorien die Entstehung der Marktmechanismen sehr gut erklären können, wobei für sehr wenige Fakten ein Gouvernementalitäts-Ansatz eventuell besser geeignet ist.

3. Introduction

In order to face the challenge of global climate change, the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 set up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After several conferences of the parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol with binding reduction commitments was adopted. To make it easier to reach these targets, three flexible mechanisms were introduced: emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI). Emissions trading is widely seen as a cost-effective way to tackle climate change (Sandor et al. 2002: 1608-1609). But there are also social movements, NGO's[1] and scientists who criticize this way of handling the problem, as it liberates northern countries from the necessary structural changes in production and consumption to reduce emissions sufficiently (see Lohmann 2006; Liverman 2009).

Because of that it is interesting to ask, why just these mechanisms came into force. The book “Carbon Trading” from Larry Lohmann (2006: 31-69) gives a lot of interesting insights for this question. But how could the genesis of carbon trading be described theoretically? A very popular theory to conceptualize climate change politics and to address the drawbacks of regime theory is the global governance approach (Okereke et al. 2009: 60). But Okereke et al. (2009: 60-61) identify three problems of this theory:

1. The claim that states loose power to NNSAs would remain unclear.
2. Global Governance literature would mostly maintain the state-centrism that it seeks to overcome (Sending/Neumann 2006: 188) and
3. the hows of governing would lack the necessary attention (Sending/Neumann 2006: 188).

To overcome these drawbacks, Okereke et al. (2009) explain how neo-Gramscian perspectives[2] can enrich the conceptualization of transnational climate politics and they name the market mechanisms as an empirical example that supports neo-Gramscian theories.

Already at a first sight, one can assume, that this theory and the case work together. The neo-Gramscian theories have the assumption that hegemony relies on certain material structures and ideas and that it is exerted through public institutions and various actors of civil society. It seems obvious that the establishment of the market mechanisms is a result of capitalist production, a market paradigm and the enforcement of the latter through industrial states, business lobby groups and institutions like the World Bank.

But whether neo-Gramscian theories can really explain the use of market mechanisms in the international climate regime, will be answered by the following analysis. As far as I know no other study explicitly examined this question before. It is true that, as already mentioned, Okereke et al. (2009: 63) call the market mechanisms as an example for the application of neo-Gramscian approaches and Liverman (2009: 280) also mentions the usefulness of neo-Gramscian ideas in her article, which is inter alia about the market solutions. But both papers do not really apply neo-Gramscian perspectives to the history of the origins of carbon trading. And Brunnengräber et al. (2008), who made a noteworthy contribution, mentioned Gramscian perspectives also only in a short part (2008: 197-198) and used mainly other theories.

In order to accomplish the raised task, the neo-Gramscian approaches will be described at first. The next section gives a short introduction to the flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol. It is true that the advantages, the drawbacks and the effectiveness of the three flexible mechanisms can of course not be extensively assessed in this paper. But the main points will be mentioned, in order to show the possible implications of the mechanisms and to emphasize the importance of the question on how they came into being. After that, the neo-Gramscian perspectives will be applied to the genesis of the market mechanisms in the international climate regime. Thereby we will see, whether these approaches are useful to explain the creation of a market based climate policy. In the conclusion a short summary of the paper will be given, and the results gained in the previous section will be presented.

4. Neo-Gramscian Perspectives

According to critical authors the mainstream IR-theories like Realism or Institutionalism were not any more able to give answers for the structural changes of the 1970s, so that neo-Gramscian theories have been developed at the beginning of the 1980s (Bieler/Morton 2006: 354). Probably the most popular theorist in this field is Robert Cox, whose article “Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory” (Cox 1981) is very often cited. There are also other important neo-Gramscian authors like Stephen Gill, Kees van der Pijl and Henk Overbeek, whose approaches differ from Cox in certain aspects (Bieler/Morton 2006: 367). But as Cox can be seen as the initiator, the following depiction relies mainly on him and especially on his just mentioned article from 1981.

Cox counts his theory among critical theory, which calls the prevailing order and institutions into question and analyses the social, economic and political structures as a whole and not only different parts of it like mainstream IR-theories do, which Cox calls problem-solving theory (Cox 1981: 129). In contrast to the work of Antonio Gramsci, on which neo-Gramscian theories are mainly based on, the point of interest is not so much the Western state but rather transnational relations and therefore a critique of global capitalism is being built (Bieler/Morton 2006: 355).

In order to illustrate the neo-Gramscian perspectives, the concept of hegemony shall be explained at first. Hegemony in the sense of Gramsci means, that power of the ruling class is not exerted coercively by the apparatus of the state, but that it relies on consent with certain institutions and with the majority of civil society (Overbeek 2000: 173). The support through material capabilities and especially the acceptance of ideological and moral elements by a wide range of actors is very important for a hegemonial consensus (Bieler/Morton 2006: 357; Overbeek 2000: 173-174). This can be achieved when the ruling group is able to show that their interests are the interests of other groups or the general interest (Brunnengräber et al. 2008: 197). With the involvement of very different actors, the Gramscian concept of hegemony lacks a defined boundary between state and society (Okereke et al. 2009: 67). Consent means that the leading group makes sacrifices and is open for compromises, but these of course do not touch the essential (Gramsci 1971: 161), thus “consensus does not mean harmony or active agreement; rather it simply implies absence of active resistance” (Okereke et al. 2009: 67). This form of organising (bourgeois) hegemony “is most typical for highly developed capitalist formations with a strong civil society” (Overbeek 2000: 175). When hegemony is successfully established and when different class interests are united on “a 'universal' plane” (Gramsci 1971: 182), one can speak of a historic bloc, which describes how leading social forces rule over subordinated groups (Bieler/Morton 2006: 361-62).

Thereby hegemony is a product of social processes (Bieler/Morton 2006: 357), and thus the analysis of the social relations of production is essential (Overbeek 2000: 180). And as Cox has a historical understanding of hegemony, he argues that hegemony exists within certain 'historical structures' (Bieler/Morton: 2006: 357). They represent complex reality and express certain tendencies like ideal types (Cox 1981: 137). Such a “historical structure is a picture of a particular configuration of forces […] [that] imposes pressures and constraints” (Cox 1981: 135). There are three kinds of forces which interact in a specific historical structure: material capabilities, ideas and institutions (Cox 1981: 136).


[1] One example is 'Climate Justice Action', They and other groups have announced protest in Copenhagen while the COP 15 will be held there in December 2009.

[2] As there is not one neo-Gramscian 'school' one should use the plural inter alia to avoid simplification (Morton 2001, see also page 3 in this paper).

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Carbon Trading: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives on the Genesis of the Market Mechanisms in the International Climate Regime
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Institut für Politik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft)
International environmental politics
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ISBN (Book)
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carbon, trading, neo-gramscian, perspectives, genesis, market, mechanisms, international, climate, regime, gramsci, internationale beziehungen, hegemony, klima, marktmechanismen, klimaregime, neo-gramscianismus, neo-gramscianische perspektiven, emissionshandel, joint implementation, cdm, clean development mechanism, hegemonie
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Reinhold Uhlmann (Author), 2009, Carbon Trading: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives on the Genesis of the Market Mechanisms in the International Climate Regime, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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