As a Canadian expert urges governments to address the climate impacts of their trade and investment policies in light of a grim report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a small shift is already under way in the United States, with Republicans extolling the benefits of carbon border adjustments to thwart Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The latest [IPCC] report signals that behavioural changes are required throughout society—from individuals and communities, to institutions and governments,” writes international environmental law expert Sabaa Khan, the David Suzuki Foundation’s director general for Quebec and Atlantic Canada, in a post for Policy Options. “But it’s clear that, above all, governments must assume with far greater urgency their shared responsibility to set the parameters of the global economy to enable everyone to adopt more climate-sensitive lifestyles and ensure global inequalities don’t worsen.”
The recent “atlas of human suffering” released by the IPCC urgently calls for accelerating climate action to prevent ecosystems and human societies from collapsing. Governments should lead the charge towards these transformational changes by acknowledging “the profound impact of their trade and investment policies on climate change, and reverse longstanding patterns of deep incoherence between our climate policy objectives and the emissions-intensive trajectories of the global economy,” Khan says.
Governments will need to reorient multilateral and bilateral agreements towards achieving climate objectives to successfully overhaul global industrial production and consumption patterns. But so far, high-emitting countries like the U.S. and Canada are holding fast to neo-liberal free trade policies that continue to increase global health inequities and worsen climate and other environmental crises, writes Khan.
For example, only days after touting its climate commitments at last year’s COP 26 climate summit, Canada—one of the largest per-capita greenhouse gas emitters and exporters of fossil fuels—opened negotiations with member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a comprehensive free trade agreement that held no mention of climate change.
The U.S. has also been notably resistant to climate policies that compromise its free trade principles, but some Republican politicians are now indicating support for leveraging carbon border fees in their strategy with European Union member states to pressure Russia into withdrawing from its invasion of Ukraine, reports the Washington Post.
“People expect us or want us to deal with climate, but it’s not a natural thing for conservative Republicans to talk about,” said Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) regarding his recent opinion article about using climate policy to counter Russia’s energy dominance, written with former national security advisor H.R. McMaster. “Here is an ‘America First’ solution that reduces emissions in a realistic way and has the additional advantage of freezing out Vladimir Putin.”
While the U.S. issued a ban on all Russian oil and gas imports Tuesday, EU member states that are more dependent on Russian oil had been more hesitant until yesterday, when they announced a plan to cut their demand for Russian gas by 65% this year and phase out all Russian fossil fuels “well before” 2030. Cramer and McMaster argue that pursuing carbon border fees would not only align with European priorities but also counter Putin’s advantage.
“It is time to correct the mistakes of the past and prevent state-controlled, mercantilist economies from continuing to ignore environmental, labour, and human rights standards to gain an unfair competitive advantage,” they write in Foreign Policy.
Neither Cramer nor McMaster supports a domestic price on carbon pollution, which is needed for “border adjustment to work the way they intend,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Still, a shift is happening, said Heather Reams, president of the right-leaning Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, who described herself to the Post “as a long-time observer of how climate policy and politics evolve on the right.”