Bridges Weekly Trade News Digest
Government officials from around the world are meeting at a United Nations conference in Bali to develop a blueprint for starting negotiations on a new treaty to protect the global climate from greenhouse gas emissions.
Winning the support of all major players -- particularly the largest emitters of carbon dioxide -- will be crucial to a successful outcome.
For the first time, trade ministers from several countries will attend the summit. They will meet with each other at a separate event hosted by the Indonesian government, with the task of looking creatively at what the trade regime can do to support efforts to mitigate emissions, and to consider the extent to which trade measures could be justified to promote climate change goals.
Bali meeting to agree a roadmap for negotiations
Thousands of policymakers are meeting under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 3-14 December. They are not seeking to flesh out a detailed global plan for dealing with climate change, but simply to create a roadmap for how to get to that plan.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel-prize winning UN scientific body that has detailed how humans affect climate change and the environment, noted in its latest report last month that the "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." The report warns that "concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, far exceed the natural range over the last 650,000 years." Under a business as usual scenario, global temperatures are set to rise sharply, hitting the poor and vulnerable disproportionately. This would also threaten the survival of unique ecosystems around the poles and at high altitudes, and increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events.
The IPCC report, which synthesises past research and analysis, stresses the need for rapid action: emissions of greenhouse gases would have to peak by 2015 to limit global temperature rises to 2.0 to 2.4 Celsius over pre-industrial times, a strict goal that the EU has adopted in order to avoid "dangerous" climate change.
Also in November, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned that "climate change threatens unprecedented human development reversals." The organisation's annual Human Development Report, which focused this year on climate change, detailed the enormous and costly adaptation needs for dealing with rising sea levels, floods, droughts, and storms. "Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole," commented UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. "But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs."
The report called for developed countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, with further reductions to at least 80 percent below those levels by 2050. It suggests that developing countries should, by 2050, cut emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels.
Currently, governments have taken different approaches to dealing with climate change. Most have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which requires emissions cuts only of industrialised nations, in accordance with the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities'. The newly-elected Labour government in Australia this week made ratifying the Kyoto Protocol its first official act, leaving the US as the only industrialised country that has not ratified the treaty.
For a future climate deal to be meaningful, the US will need to be back in the process. Also crucial will be key emerging economies - above all China and India - which are becoming major sources of greenhouse gases, even though their per capita emissions remain a small fraction of those in the industrialised world.
Amidst calls for them to take on at least some form of emissions target, China, India and Brazil have stressed that developed countries must lead the way. "China will play its due role and take its due part in the process of emission reduction, but we will absolutely not take on the commitment of taking on the same responsibilities and making the same commitments as the developed countries," Xie Zhenhua, who will head the Chinese delegation to Bali, told reporters.
The Bali summit is set to launch a climate change adaptation fund to help the poorest countries, which ironically are also the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, despite having done nothing to create the problem.
Trade ministers to meet
In parallel with the UNFCCC meetings, Indonesia, the host country, has called for a meeting of trade ministers from selected countries to think creatively about how they might help forge an effective climate deal. Although some are reluctant to link the highly complex processes to each other -- especially given the lack of momentum in the ongoing WTO negotiations -- the trade realm does contain some potential carrots and sticks for the climate talks.
Energy efficient goods, renewable energy technologies, biofuels and technologies such as carbon capture and storage need to be available in vastly increased quantities worldwide. The Doha Round negotiations on liberalising trade in environmental goods and services may potentially offer one avenue to encourage the spread of green technology (see related article, this issue).
Meanwhile, some have suggested that relaxing global intellectual property protections might help make climate friendly technologies more affordable in developing countries -- also something that potentially could be discussed within the trade system (see related article, this issue).
As developed countries prepare to implement tough emissions reduction commitments, which will affect domestic energy prices and potentially trade competitiveness, some government leaders, particularly in Europe, have raised the notion of tariff adjustments on imports from countries that do not sign on to climate measures. This would, they claim, both level the playing field for their goods and encourage countries to join global efforts to mitigate climate change.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab is going to Bali, as are her counterparts from Argentina, Brazil, China, France, India, South Africa, and the UK. David O'Sullivan, the European Commission's top trade bureaucrat, is also slated to go. Sources say that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, too, will attend the discussion.
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