Conventions of climate change: constructions of danger and the dispossession of the atmosphere

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Climate change has emerged as one of the key issues of the early years of the twenty-first century, bringing together concerns about human relations to nature, the responsibility of rich nations to poorer, the links from local activities to global conditions, and the obligations of present to future generations. This paper focuses on three key 'narratives' that are enshrined in international climate policy - asserting that 'dangerous climate change' is to be avoided; that the responsibility for climate change is common but differentiated; and that the market (in the form of carbon trading) is the best way to reduce the danger. The goal of the paper is to analyse the origins of these narratives, the power relations they reflect and promote, and some of the concepts and images used to support them, including those of climate determinism, climate stabilisation, 'burning embers', 'tipping points', Global Warming Potentials, targets and timetables, and carbon credits. I argue that by choosing the market solution of trading carbon we have created a new and surreal commodity, unfairly allocated pollution rights to nation states based on 1990 emission levels, and established a new set north-south relations and carbon transactions in the name of sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-296
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Carbon trading
  • Climate change
  • Climate policy
  • Kyoto
  • Narrative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Archaeology


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