After Copenhagen: The Impossibility of Carbon Trading

34 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2010 Last revised: 1 Jun 2013

See all articles by David Campbell

David Campbell

Lancaster University - Law School

M Klaes

University of Dundee

Christopher Bignell


Date Written: December 3, 2010


The attempt to develop international cap and trade markets for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, ultimately aiming to determine a global price for carbon, is the most extensive attempt ever made to use market-mimicking mechanisms to deal with an environmental externality. Addressed to the problem of climate change, it is an exercise in the adjustment of the social welfare function on a global scale, and it envisages expenditures which will run into trillions of dollars. Focusing on the operation of the Clean Development Mechanism, the most important of the three flexible mechanisms for carbon trade established under the Kyoto Protocol, it will be argued that carbon trading which will reduce emissions in line with any of the targets set for avoiding dangerous anthropological interference is impossible. Climate change negotiations have completely failed to place a cap on global emissions; indeed, they have given a legal permission to increase them. Reflecting the fatal shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol, the operation of the CDM so far has not merely failed to secure reductions, but in all likelihood has actually increased the absolute level of emissions.

Suggested Citation

Campbell, I. David and Klaes, Matthias and Bignell, Christopher, After Copenhagen: The Impossibility of Carbon Trading (December 3, 2010). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 22/2010, Available at SSRN: or

I. David Campbell (Contact Author)

Lancaster University - Law School ( email )

Law School
Lancaster, LA1 4YW
United Kingdom

Matthias Klaes

University of Dundee

University of Dundee
1 Perth road
Dundee, Tayside DD1 4HN
United Kingdom

Christopher Bignell

Independent ( email )

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