Stalled WTO Doha Negotiations Good News for the Climate

By Gould, Ellen | CCPA Monitor, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Stalled WTO Doha Negotiations Good News for the Climate


Gould, Ellen, CCPA Monitor


TRADE VS. THE ENVIRONMENT:

While governments point fingers at one another over who should revive the moribund World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, the stalemate, from a climate change perspective, is cause for celebration.

An effort to "greenwash" these negotiations, which were launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, portrays them as a win-win for both trade and the climate. But a Doha deal would likely have the effect of providing climate-hostile countries like Canada and Saudi Arabia with more ammunition to challenge and delay action on climate change.

Public interest groups that track the WTO have compiled a depressingly long list of the existing WTO rules that could be used to attack government climate change programs. Before the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Public Citizen methodically went through candidates' climate proposals and matched them with the WTO provisions they appear to violate. Public Citizen found that:

* "cap and trade" systems could violate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS);

* fuel efficiency standards could violate the GATT;

* bans on incandescent light bulbs could violate both the GATT and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade;

* restrictions on new coal plants could violate the GATS;

* renewable portfolio standards for energy suppliers could violate the GATS;

* subsidies for green production could violate the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures; and

* green purchasing by governments could violate the Agreement on Government Procurement.

Another key WTO agreement related to climate change is the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. University of Alberta Law Professor Cameron Hutchison has studied TRIPS's impact on climate change policies and concluded: "A strong argument could be made that. . . TRIPS. . . conflicts with obligations in the climate change regime to push technology transfer into developing countries. . ."

The WTO's own review of relevant studies suggests that expanding trade through the Doha negotiations will contribute to climate change. The WTO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published a report in 2009 that included the most recent evidence of the impacts of increased trade on greenhouse gas emissions. This report found that "most of the econometric studies suggest that more open trade would be likely to increase CO2 emissions."

At the WTO, Saudi Arabia has implied that a broad range of climate change initiatives - taxation, subsidies, and incentives to support green energy - contravene the organization's rules. A Saudi position paper states that, "As technology improves, wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal energy is predicted to rise as a share of global energy use... However, financial supports are given at the expense of other energy forms and are discriminatory in nature."

It may sound like a good thing for governments to discriminate between imports based on whether they help or hurt the climate, but in the world of trade agreements such discrimination is a cardinal sin. Most trade challenges are based on countries claiming their exports are being discriminated against.

Canada is also complaining about discrimination against its carbon-intensive resource sector. The federal government has sharply criticized California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, arguing that it would unfairly discriminate against imports of oil from the Alberta tar sands. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is a regulation prompted by California's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act. The aim of the Act is to promote alternative low-carbon fuels and by 2020 to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels used in California by 10%.

Among other Canadian government efforts to block California's regulation, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt, sent a letter in April last year to Governor Schwarzeneggar, claiming the Low Carbon Fuel Standard "could be perceived as creating an unfair trade barrier between our two countries.

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Stalled WTO Doha Negotiations Good News for the Climate
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