Workshop: Commodifying Carbon: The Ethics of Markets in Nature

Past Event

16 July 2007, 1:00am


A workshop organised by the Environmental Change Institute and the Programme on the Ethics of the New Biosciences.

One of the manifestations of the global environmental economic paradigm is what has become known as the ‘carbon economy.’ One feature of many of the activities that fall under this umbrella is that they treat carbon emissions or information about carbon emissions as a commodity to be traded. The presumption of this paradigm - both generally and as applied to carbon - is that creating and regulating a market in these commodities is the most effective way to achieve the crucially important environmental goals of the 21st Century.

This workshop focuses on the commodification of carbon and the ethical presuppositions of the global environmental-economic paradigm as it applies to carbon. The key question addressed at the workshop is whether some form of market in carbon emissions ought to be adopted. This is an important, practical ethical problem. In order to satisfactorily address it, all of the various considerations need to be taken together. The extent to which these considerations can be answered adequately is the extent to which the introduction of a market in carbon emissions is ethical.

The workshop is organized into four sessions, each of which examines important considerations in the ethics of commodifying carbon.

  1. The Nature and Ethics of Commodification: It might be wrong to extend the market and market principles to this context. Markets inevitably treat their commodities in a certain way and in some cases, irrespective of the other outcomes and goals, it is wrong to permit this treatment. The first session will consider the nature of commodification and the ethics of introducing a market to this area of human activity.
  2. Ethics, Outcomes and Carbon Markets: If a market in carbon emissions is to stand a chance of being justifiable in ethical terms, the benefits of its introduction must outweigh the costs. The second session will begin to articulate the ethical value of the environmental goals that can be achieved by a market in carbon emissions. Some attention will be given to the science underlying these goals, the various forms of market mechanisms on the table and the likely results of their implementation.
  3. Ethics and Practicalities: Implementing Carbon Markets: The third session will examine some of the practical issues surrounding the introduction of carbon markets in the light of ethical concerns. A market in carbon emissions ought, ethically, to be introduced only if it can be feasibly implemented in such a way as to achieve the goals that justify its introduction.
  4. Justice and the Commodification of Carbon: Finally, establishing a carbon market may achieve certain important environmental goals but at the expense of those who are already disadvantaged. This final session will consider the impact of the carbon market on global economic and social inequalities. It will examine the extent to which concerns about exacerbated injustices and the potential violation of rights trump the market-based achievement of global environmental goals.

Confirmed Speakers/Authors:

  • Catherine Bottrill (University of Oxford)
  • Emily Boyd (University of Oxford)
  • Jessica Boyd (Princeton University)
  • Max Boykoff (University of Oxford)
  • Simon Caney (University of Oxford)
  • Paula Casal (University of Reading)
  • John Dupré (University of Exeter)
  • Dave Frame (University of Oxford)
  • Mike Goodman (Kings College, London)
  • Cameron Hepburn (University of Oxford)
  • Diana Liverman (University of Oxford)
  • John O’Neill (University of Manchester)
  • Ed Page (Warwick University)
  • Scott Prudham (University of Toronto, CA)
  • Steve Rayner (University of Oxford)
  • Timmons Roberts (University of Oxford)
  • Mark Sheehan (University of Oxford)
  • Peter Sheehan (Victoria University, Australia)
  • Henry Shue (University of Oxford)
  • Richard Starkey (University of Manchester)
  • Sarah Whatmore (University of Oxford)
  • Stephen Wilkinson (Keele University)
  • Andrew Williams (Warwick University)