Ecological Modernisation and the Governance of Carbon: A Critical Analysis

Ian Bailey*, Andy Gouldson, Peter Newell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we use insights derived from a critical evaluation of ecological modernisation theories to examine the origins and influence of new, market-based, forms of carbon governance. Focusing on two key examples-emissions trading in Europe and the global market in offsets-we argue that ecological modernisation theories can help us understand the processes through which the seemingly intractable problem of climate change has been reframed as an opportunity to construct a new carbon economy and anticipate some of the tensions, contradictions and limits of such an approach. We then explore the governance dimensions of these novel market mechanisms, look athow they work, and then discusswhether,to what extentandfor whomthey work. We highlight a series of (un)-intended consequences that flow from these practices and modes of governing. We conclude by discussing the significance of these observations both for debates on climate change and the governance of carbon and for theories of ecological modernisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)682-703
Number of pages22
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • Accountability and outcome deficits
  • Carbon markets
  • Climate governance
  • Ecological modernisation
  • Legitimacy
  • Political drivers


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