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Carbon Cycling, Privatization and the Commons

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Lohmann, Larry
Conference: Politics of the Commons: Articulating Development and Strengthening Local Practices
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Conf. Date: July 11-14, 2003
Date: 2003
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/976
Sector: Global Commons
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
global commons
climate change
Kyoto Protocol
environmental policy
privatization
greenhouse effect
carbon sequestration
governance and politics
Abstract: "Traditionally, the earth's ability to keep greenhouse gas proportions within the atmosphere within a certain range has been what is known as 'open access'. Anybody has been free to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with no rules being applicable except ones incidentally relating to accompanying pollutants. Because nothing has been at stake, the world's carbon-cycling capacity has never until recently been a resource. And it will always remain too unwieldy and unbounded to be treated as, by contrast, a commons. Yet through familiar processes of overuse and skewed use, global carbon-cycling capacity has recently begun to be treated as economically scarce.... Given such classic conditions of scarcity and competition, pressures both to restrict use of the dump and to transform it into a privately-owned resource can come as no surprise. Since the late 1990s, the latter has been the dominant theme in international climate politics. Some qualifications aside, moreover, entitlements to the earth's carbon-cycling capacity are being issued to those who already use it most. Billions of dollars worth of dumping permits are being allocated to the corporate sector by governmental and United Nations agencies under conditions of undemocratic bargaining. These rights have the potential to form the basis for a new wave of accumulation in what may become the largest market ever created. Hence the journalistic tendency to present the politics of global climate as a conflict between two positions-- that of the US, which rejects the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and that of most of the rest of the worlds states, which embrace it is misleading. From a commons viewpoint, the two positions are essentially one. The US regime insists on a right to continued disproportionate use of the world's carbon dumps. The Kyoto Protocol -- itself largely a product of US government negotiation and pressure -- formalizes this right, stipulating only that it be provisional and that fairly insignificant flat-rate reductions be made by industrialized countries before other nations. There is a difference, but its immediate relevance to most of the world's citizens is open to question. Nor do the resemblances stop there. US and Kyoto climate politics also both help drive two further important novel movements of privatization. These are the focus of this paper."

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