Market failure at Durban's climate summit

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The United Nations climate negotiations-especially the annual Conference of the Parties (COPs) that have taken place since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol-have failed to address what scientists agree is the world's greatest-ever threat to the human species and much other life on Earth. In Durban, South Africa, the December 2011 COP17 summit yet again turned to failing market mechanisms to address emissions cuts, without advancing beyond unambitious 2009 Copenhagen COP15 targets. Carbon markets continued to fall for weeks after the COP17, with the Clean Development Mechanism declared to be in crisis 9 months later when a major UN report on its future was issued by a committee chaired by former SA Environment Minister Valli Moosa. Unlike in Copenhagen, a learned helplessness was evident as state delegations from the most adversely affected areas failed to speak up when it became apparent that no climate-saving deal was possible (in contrast to comparable trade summits in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003, when African delegates objected to harmful deals, thus slowing multilateral neoliberalism). Durban was thus not a 'huge success' (as SA president Jacob Zuma claimed), but instead a step in the conscious acquiescence to Africa's worst genocide yet. The lessons for geopolitical, environmental and political-economic dynamics are important for geographers to consider given the discipline's interest in the technical details of financial fixes for ecological problems in hotly contested socio-political settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-102
Number of pages14
JournalSouthern African Geographical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Durban
  • South Africa
  • United Nations framework convention on climate change
  • climate
  • emissions trading
  • environment
  • minerals-energy complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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