Escaping the Fractal Carbon Trap


Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 16 April 2019


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building #8, ANU
ANU Canberra


Matthew Hoffmann


School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet)

New guiding metaphors and analytic tools are needed to move the global political response to climate change forward with requisite speed. Our current framing of climate change as an emission problem and guiding metaphors of the carbon budget, global public goods, and common pool resources have so far failed to produce the global response necessary to catalyze transformation on the scale required to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change.

In this talk I will discuss a new approach to climate governance that posits decarbonisation as the key political goal and considers that the challenge of carbon lock-in can be usefully characterised as a fractal system.

The analytic/policy problem is therefore how to escape the fractal carbon trap—how to produce catalytic action that generates transformation by disrupting the status quo in a way that overcomes the inertia in social systems that tends to reinforce one of two equilibria: carbon lock-in or efficiency gains.

Both equilibria fail to move the system towards decarbonisation owing to reinforcing dynamics in interdependent parts of the fractal system. This new metaphor implies a different kind of politics and research agenda—a focus on experimentation and multilevel action simultaneously in multiple locations of fractal systems.

I close with some thoughts on how this metaphor has the potential to be analytically and practically productive in generating effective means of responding to the climate challenge.

About the speaker

Matthew Hoffmann is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto and Co-Director of the Environmental Governance Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs. In addition to a number of articles and book chapters on climate politics, carbon markets, and global governance, he is the author of Climate Governance at the Crossroads: Experimenting with a Global Response after Kyoto and Ozone Depletion and Climate Change: Constructing a Global Response. He also is a co-author on a recent collaborative book Transnational Climate Change Governance and co-editor of the volume Contending Perspectives on Global Governance. His current collaborative research project explores the development of Political Pathways to Decarbonization.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet