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Voluntary Individual Carbon Trading

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  • Clive L. Spash

    ()

  • Hendrik Theine

Abstract

In recent years, the search for regulatory regimes in order to effectively address human iinduced climate change have become a prominent political and academic issue. Emission trading schemes have risen in popularity and are widely believed to be an effective, as well as economically efficient, measure and have become a favoured government strategy. On the individual level, many individuals in the industrialised nations now undertake actions to offset their personal direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by voluntarily purchasing carbon credits, normally in association with product or service purchase. While this is a fast growing market, advertised as creating a carbon neutral consumer society, the voluntary carbon credit sector raises fundamental problems with respect to verification and credibility of the claimed offsets and associated projects. Lack of regulation and legal oversight leads to the impossibility of actually obtaining or verifying information on the consequences of voluntary credit purchases. Providers of offset credits who are driven by greed and easy profits will underfunded emissions abatement projects and pay little attention to quality standards. Corporate ‘green washing’ is also likely through voluntary offsets marketed as going carbon neutral. This paper connects voluntary offsets to psychological and behavioural impacts on the individual. We identify three specific issues: the psychology of marketing and purchasing of voluntary offsets, commodification and crowding out of intrinsic motivations and the implicit ethics with its own psychological implications. We also discuss the political economy of voluntary carbon markets and their geo-political implications in terms of the global North-South divide and ethical responsibility for action on human induced climate change. This raises serious concerns over the individualisation of a collective problem, what can and should be expected of individuals as ethical consumers and how markets operate in practice. Such aspects place individual behaviour within a broader social and institutional context that questions the trend in market environmentalism and its impacts on the capability of humans to relate to nature.

Suggested Citation

  • Clive L. Spash & Hendrik Theine, 2016. "Voluntary Individual Carbon Trading," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2016_04, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwsre:sre-disc-2016_04
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