EU-US trade deal a threat to climate

27 November 2015 - 11:30am
War on Want in the news

Mark Dearn, Trade Campaigner, War on Want. This article was originally published by The Guardian 

The prospects for a meaningful agreement at the UN climate change talks beginning on Monday are bleak. As a result, so too are the prospects for the 100 million more people predicted to be living in poverty by 2030 as a result of global warming.

Though framed by record high temperatures and an increasing number of extreme weather events, the Paris talks are already beset by the same problems that repeatedly dog climate change negotiations: the richest countries steadfastly refuse to meet legal commitments and shoulder their share of responsibility, preferring to uphold the desires of all-powerful corporate lobbies. Meanwhile, the poorest countries meet or exceed their responsibilities.

But regardless of commitments made in Paris, any steps to halt runaway climate change will be wholly undermined by the secretly negotiated EU-US trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

People power versus corporate power

While touted as a “free trade” deal, in reality TTIP is anything but. The reduction of “tariffs” is a tiny fraction of the deal. The trade deal’s central mission is to remove “non-tariff barriers” – the regulations that often protect our society, health and environment. Fundamentally, it is a struggle between corporate power and the interests of people and the planet, with wide-ranging ramifications for the global south.

Since its 2013 announcement, a key aim of TTIP has been to destroy regulations that prevent high-polluting tar sand crude oil from entering Europe. It is a target intimately tied to the EU’s anti-Russian geopolitical aims, and the wishes of the powerful oil lobby and its conduits in the American, British and Canadian governments. As the Guardian has revealed, the EU is colluding with the world’s biggest oil companies to ensure TTIP’s energy chapter is firmly in their interests.

“Game over for the climate”

An agenda that promises a high-carbon future unmasks the spin of rich country promises to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century, highlighting the corporate nature of the deal and its devastating consequences for climate change. As the Nasa scientist James Hansen argues, if the tar sands are exploited as projected, it will be “game over for the climate”.

Regulations on both sides of the Atlantic are targeted for removal. On the one hand, there is the EU’s fuel quality directive (FQD), created to reduce emissions from transport fuels to meet climate change commitments. On the other, there is the 40-year US ban on crude oil exports, which Republicans are eager to dismantle against the wishes of the government and Democrats.

Toxic pollution

Tar sands oil is abundant in Canada, where mining has decimated the rights of First Nations communities, destroyed ancient forests, diverted huge amounts of water and led to toxic pollution. Research suggests that tar sands extraction and refining – which takes place in the US – leads to 23% higher greenhouse gas emissions than average EU fossil fuels.

The EU adopted the FQD in 2009. Since then, it has been firmly in the crosshairs of the world’s largest oil companies, which have invested heavily in tar sands.

The oil companies have harnessed support in the office overseeing US trade policy, among US Republicans, in the Canadian and British governments, and in the European commission, which oversees EU trade policy. The result has been the progressive weakening of the directive, the future of which after 2020 is uncertain.

British government, BP and Shell

Michael Froman, the US trade representative, believes the directive is a “discriminatory” barrier to trade. The US Chamber of Commerce revelled in having “successfully advocated for a delay in, and possible reconsideration of” the directive, marking it as one of its “policy accomplishments for 2013”. The British government, heavily lobbied by BP and Shell, has been quick to lend its support to Canadian efforts to destroy the directive.

But a statement from a group of US members of Congress highlights, the trade agenda is undermining climate change policies. “Pressuring the EU to alter its FQD would be inconsistent with the goals expressed in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan,” says the statement, adding that ”trade and investment rules may be being used to undermine or threaten important climate policies of other nations”.

For its part, the European parliament, which will vote on TTIP’s ratification, is playing both sides. In a TTIP resolution passed in July, consecutive paragraphs commit to “abolish any existing restrictions or impediments” on fuel exports and imports, before stating that energy quality standards must be respected, “including those for energy products related to their impact on CO emissions such as the one enshrined in the fuel quality directive”.

What about the global south?

Far from being a simple case of European interests versus US interests, the lines of demarcation in TTIP are between the mutually exclusive interests of transnational big business and people and the planet; if the deal passes, the former wins and the latter lose.

Both TTIP and climate change are symptoms of the dominant neoliberal ideology. Regardless of the outcomes of talks in Paris, without a fundamental change to our corporate-led system, we will soon start counting the cost in the millions of lives lost in the global south.

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