Splintering South: Ecologically Unequal Exchange Theory in a Fragmented Global Climate


  • David Ciplet Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder
  • J. Timmons Roberts Brown University Environmental Studies and Sociology




Ecologically Unequal Exchange, Climate change politics, United Nations climate negotiations, 2015 Paris climate negotiations


The article examines the changing nature of politics in the United Nations climate negotiations through the lens of ecologically unequal exchange theory, focusing on the lead up to and aftermath of the 2015 Paris negotiations. We identify and discuss three areas of tension that have emerged within the G-77 coalition: tensions within the global semi-periphery, tensions between the semi-periphery and periphery, and tensions within the periphery. Together, these tensions challenge the main link of solidarity in the G-77 coalition: the idea that all countries in the global South share a common predicament in the global system, with the North solely to blame. Drawing upon this case, we offer three related insights to develop ecologically unequal exchange theory. First, theory and empirical work must better consider the role of the semi-periphery, and divisions within the semi-periphery, in reproducing ecologically unequal societies. Second, theory should account for how fragmentation between the periphery and semi-periphery may produce distinct challenges for peripheral states to resist governance forms which intensify ecologically unequal exchange. Third, theory should better account for the ways in which ecologically unequal exchange as mobilized as a collective action frame reflects and diverges from the real-world distribution of environmental goods and bads in the world system.

Author Biographies

David Ciplet, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

David Ciplet is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, USA. He is lead author of Power in a Warming World: The New Global Politics of Climate Change and the Remaking of Environmental Inequality, MIT Press, 2015, and has articles in journals such as Global Environmental Politics, Global Governance, and Social Movement Studies.

J. Timmons Roberts, Brown University Environmental Studies and Sociology

Ittleson Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology


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How to Cite

Ciplet, D., & Roberts, J. T. (2017). Splintering South: Ecologically Unequal Exchange Theory in a Fragmented Global Climate. Journal of World-Systems Research, 23(2), 372–398. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2017.669



Special Issue: Unequal Ecological Exchange