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On Climate Rent

In: Historical Materialism
Author: Romain Felli1
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As environmental degradation becomes a growing concern, this article argues that the development of international law on climate change expresses the deep social contradictions between accumulation and reproduction under capitalism. These contradictions are translated into the creation of a form of public property over the right to emit greenhouse gases (and not the ‘privatisation’ of the atmosphere). This public property is unequally distributed amongst states in an imperialist manner. The distribution of these rights at the domestic level amounts to the distribution of rights to climate rent. Contrary to popular accounts of the ‘commodification’ of nature, I argue that emission rights are not ‘commodities’, and emissions trading and carbon markets are not ‘accumulation strategies’. These are merely depoliticised forms in which climate rent is extracted and circulates to preclude political debates about the goals of production.

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