ABSTRACT

The Earthrise image, captured by the Apollo space mission in 1969, is thought to have catalysed a great change in the way we perceive our relationship to Planet Earth. (Gore 2007; Dryzek 1997; Doyle 2007; Lester 2010) But the priceless profundity distilled in this picture, and the far-reaching, deep-seated reforms said to have been instilled by it, have somehow led to more of the same, short-term markettrading which makes London what it is today. Alongside every other form of debt (personal, corporate, institutional, national), in the London markets humanity’s perceived debt to the planet is now traded in the form of internationally-sponsored permits to emit carbon; and these, in turn, have emitted further, secondary markets in carbon-trading derivatives. This chapter seeks to show how a sense of the profound has found its way into the lightweight world of financial intermediation, and to account for London’s role in implementing this transformation. The chapter begins with a skeletal sketch of carbon trading and how it works, followed by a brief note on London’s central position in this trade. The next section identifies various factors which have contributed to the development of international carbon trading, in London especially. These include: levels of international cooperation; state regulation and its relation to the market; the parallel rise of environmentalism and financial services; and the role of politicians and policy makers in translating the former into the latter. The concluding section is a kind of balance sheet which offsets ways in which carbon trading marks a radical departure for capital, against other aspects in which it represents the natural continuation of capitalist commodification.