Trade and investment rules should not undermine climate ambition
If the world’s representatives at the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow put the rhetoric into action, we could prevent the worst impacts of the rapidly accelerating climate crisis. But we have to look beyond the Conference of the Parties – COP26 This year. If agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are undermined by other international structures, we could face a grim future.
The COP26 negotiations – from October 31 to November 12 – are essential to build on and strengthen the measures set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. They include increasing climate finance and finalizing rules on international carbon markets, agreeing on transparency and a global adaptation target, etc.
A flaw in the COP process, however, is that the Paris Agreement’s accountability system does not allow for the application of “nationally determined contributionsWhich set out each country’s plans to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Many countries are filling this gap through national climate laws and litigation.
But climate plans and initiatives can sometimes bring nations into conflict with other international organizations and agreements.
Although the UNFCCC is the main arena for global climate cooperation, other international instruments could play a more important role in our climate future. Rules accepted under the World Trade Organization and various other trade and investment agreements often benefit destructive extractive industries to the detriment of national and international climate goals and ambitions.
Multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements facilitate the flow of goods, services, intellectual property, and foreign investment between nations. Under these laws, private companies and national governments have been able to sue countries, including Canada, for adopting public interest environmental regulations that could affect the monetary interests of companies.
Citing the example of a British oil company suing the Italian government for loss of “anticipated future profits” after Italy banned further oil drilling in coastal waters, Guardian writer George Monbiot says the widely adopted “investor-state dispute resolution” process “makes effective action against climate change almost impossible”.
Canada’s approach to global trade and investment has benefited the extractive and petrochemical industries enormously and has been contrary to our national climate ambitions. In addition, under the WTO dispute settlement system, governments have systematically challenged each other over their renewable energy subsidies. For example, in response to complaints from Japan and the European Union, the The WTO ruled in 2013 that Ontario’s ‘feed-in tariff’ program for renewable energy discriminates against foreign suppliers by requiring that a percentage of materials and services come from Ontario.
As trade obligations and lawsuits over renewable energy subsidies slow the urgent global energy transition, oil, gas and coal subsidies – even some that could be considered illegal under WTO rules – have not been scrutinized. G7 countries have pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies since 1990, but have made little progress.
Since the world made climate rules under the UNFCCC, we have also created destructive climate rules at the WTO and in other spheres of economic “cooperation”.
It’s not that we haven’t been warned. Before the Paris COP21 summit in 2015, the European Parliament considered a solution proposed by the professor and Canadian expert in investment and trade law Gus Van Harten for a “legal exclusion” that could be incorporated into the Paris Agreement to ensure the settlement of investor-state disputes. claims against countries would not apply to climate change measures. Despite a resolution from the European Parliament, it was not included.
James Bacchus, former Chairman and Chief Justice of the WTO Appellate Body, also proposed a WTO climate waiver harmonize the international trade regime with the commitments of the UNFCCC.
Climate diplomacy has been around for decades. Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, it has enjoyed enormous popularity. In light of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, expectations are high for ambitious government action at COP26.
But it is crucial to ensure that the progress of the climate crisis is not jeopardized by trade and investment bodies and agreements, and other international entities, which promote continued growth, consumerism, fossil fuels. and extraction at the expense of our collective health and survival.
Above all, delegates to COP26 must understand and convey to the world and all its organizations that it is time to leave coal, oil and gas in the ground and move quickly to better sources of energy, which whatever the challenges of those benefiting from the climate crisis.
Written with contributions from the David Suzuki Quebec Foundation and Atlantic Canada Director Sabaa Khan.
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