Voluntary Individual Carbon Trading

Publikation: Working/Discussion PaperWU Working Paper

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In recent years, the search for regulatory regimes in order to effectively address human
induced 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
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. (authors' abstract)
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 2016


ReiheSRE - Discussion Papers

WU Working Paper Reihe

  • SRE - Discussion Papers