Global summits - such as the 2002 Johannesburg Summit and the 2009 Copenhagen COP15 - can be seen as theatrical techniques of environmental governmentality. Summits such as these, which do not produce new international agreements or strengthen environmental regimes, are commonly regarded as failures. However, they can also be viewed as moments of political theatre, performative enactments of legitimacy and authority, and sites for the communication of particular examples of responsible conduct. This political theatre is not a distraction from the real business of governing the global environment, but rather it is a primary technique of government at a distance. Summits function as 'exemplary centres' for a global audience, although their mobilisation of particular stages, scripts, casts and audiences remains open to subversion and conflict. The symbolic, theatrical and performative dimensions of summitry are rarely theorised, but their implications are profound, not only for responses to the ecological crisis, but for the nature and character of global politics and the potential for resistance and dissent. © 2011 Taylor & Francis.