This paper investigates how climate change is positioned within the wider field of sustainable development. Analysis of theory and policy reveals an array of initiatives stemming from different interpretations of sustainable development. Most climate change policy is currently in less radical, reformist approaches to sustainable development that are market based and utilitarian, exemplified by a focus on energy efficiency and international political agreements. Some climate change discourse and policy is related to more radical interpretations of sustainable development, principally concerning equity, resource and consumption limits. Whilst coalitions of some approaches to sustainable development are constructed through the practice of creating initiatives on climate change, other perspectives are fundamentally irreconcilable. The paper argues that a greater awareness of underlying worldviews and perspectives behind the range of climate initiatives is necessary if the goal of global carbon emissions reduction is to be achieved. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.