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Patrick Bond debates BRICS and climate change at Sussex University, 3 November

Climate change financialized in the BRICS?
Patrick Bond

Professor of Political Economy, University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance
Director, University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society
Discussants: Stephany Griffith-Jones and Peter Newell
Chaired by Jing Gu
3 November 2015, 13.00 – 14.30pm
IDS Room 119

In the last half of 2015, both the United Nations summit in Paris and the United States presidency renewed their faith in carbon markets to solve the climate change crisis, even though the existing systems – the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, United Nations offsets, and the US-wide voluntary market that crashed in Chicago in 2010 – all have decisively failed. That means the time is ripe, from the perspective of those intent on ‘neoliberalizing nature,’ to push carbon markets to the South. More generally, within the context of global capitalist crisis, the North’s financial systems have required closer collaboration with emerging markets since the 2008 meltdown, such as in the regular recapitalizations (2009 and 2012) of the International Monetary Fund. To ensure that global climate policy renews its reliance upon emissions trading, as witnessed in Paris and with the US ‘Clean Power Plan’, similar alliances with the most powerful economies of the South are vital. Indeed, global capitalist expansion has been premised on the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc’s spatial extension of Western-centric markets, and notwithstanding recent barriers to accumulation within most of the BRICS, this has become one of the most celebrated phenomena in contemporary economic geography. After the BRICS leaders’ Ufa summit in mid-2015, it is evident that in spite of Russian sanctions and Chinese state intervention following a $3.5 trillion stock market crash in mid-2015, the BRICS’ own financial markets and two new BRICS financial institutions are fusing with – not opposing – the Western-dominated system. This could, in turn, be vital for boosting climate-related financial flows, at a time global environmental governance systems under Washington’s immense influence continue to forego the obvious state solutions required to address the impending climate catastrophe. Yet whether in the West or South, such markets are not likely to conclusively address the crisis either, given the persistent failure of emissions trading in theory and practice. As a result, there will be greater reliance upon a new ‘spatial fix’ for environmental capital seeking new profits in the BRICS. But that fix, too, has its limits, when viewed in the context of ever-unfolding capitalist crisis tendencies. In displacing these tendencies, capital’s strategies of spatio-temporal fixes and ‘accumulation by dispossession’ offer inadequate means of breathing life back into carbon markets at this vital moment in global climate governance. In contrast, the struggles against the sources and impacts of climate change, by social movements in the BRICS and their hinterlands, would be a more appropriate site to develop workable, just philosophies, analyses, strategies, tactics and alliances.

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