Assessments of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 have tended to see it as a ‘return to realism’ — as the triumph of hard interstate bargaining over institutional or normative development about climate change. This article contests that interpretation by showing how it focuses too closely on the interstate negotiations and neglects the ongoing development of carbon markets as governance practices and systems to deal with climate change. It shows that there remains a strong normative consensus about such markets, and a deepening set of transnational governance practices. These governance practices only partly depend on the interstate negotiations. Thinking about the future of global climate governance needs to start with the complexity of interactions between these transnational governance systems and the interstate negotiations.