The international community has treated climate change as an emissions reduction challenge, drawing on the analytical metaphor of the global commons, and thus the politics of collective action and international cooperation. So far, these strategies have failed to produce an effective global response.

In this article, Steven Bernstein and Matthew Hoffmann from the Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab propose decarbonization as the defining challenge and a new guiding metaphor for the problem structure: the global fractal. This metaphor aptly describes the decarbonization challenge, capturing the multilevel and interdependent nature of carbon lock-in and the fractal carbon trap facing decarbonization efforts. It also provides a means to explore the range of diverse policies and practices that can potentially escape the fractal carbon trap and catalyse deep decarbonization.

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