An important discussion in the climate change debate revolves around neoliberalism and how they are compatible with each other. There is a need for increased conversations around such bigger pictures because these essential philosophies make a world of difference on how the economy is structured.

During COY 13, the UKYCC (UK Youth Climate Coalition) organised a workshop titled “Do We Need to Take Down Neoliberalism to Address Climate Change?”. It was an extremely energetic workshop that got the youths to distinguish between capitalism and neoliberalism, with concurrently discussing on the impact of neoliberalism on climate change.

Neoliberalism is often conflated with capitalism but it is important to distinguish between the two. Capitalism, as defined by Karl Marx, is a mode of production based on private ownership of the means of production. Neoliberalism on the other hand emphasises the value of free market competition and the opening up of boundaries. However, the boundaries between liberalism and neoliberalism is a gray area. It was evident during the workshop that people found it difficult to discriminate between the two – understandably since this generally falls under the dominion of Politics, Philosophy and International Relations students.                                       

Another noteworthy element was the dominion of Global North Youth over Global South Youth. The socio-economic and geographic backgrounds came through in the discussion that the groups engaged in. Some sentiments that were aired included the idea that Developed Countries had progressed so far ahead because they practised Neoliberalism as compared to Developing countries. However, it is important to note that neoliberalism is practised very selectively even in developed countries and to their benefit (a realist argument).

When developing countries practice neoliberalism, it is at their own detriment because they tend to export only primary products with little value added and additionally, their infant industries are unable to compete effectively with corporations from developed nations. It’s like a ten and a twenty year old sitting for a high school math paper. Obviously one of them does not have the capacity and the resources to score well on the exam.

Some erroneous arguments made in favour of neoliberalism included putting a price value on nature to enable carbon trading and the purchase of carbon certificates. Some arguments made during the debate session, include how market pressure can influence states to ensure their products and trading practices are more climate friendly. Another argument was that the market and corporations knew the best.

At the academic level, there are copious amount of arguments on whether neoliberalism and also capitalism is detrimental to climate change. However, this does not seem to translate over to policy making as much as it should. Negotiators still argue in the same rhetoric – The World Trading Organisation, a neoliberal institution, is still very influential in determining international trade. Perhaps with President Trump coming in to enact so many protectionist policies and advocating for tightening rules, this paves the way for more anti-neoliberal rhetoric in the arena of climate change negotiations. Maybe more of us need to resort to the fundamentals of these economic developmental issues to solve the problem of climate change.

Written by Lhavanya

Edited by Varun and Kelly