DOES FREE TRADE LEAD TO CLIMATE RUINATION?

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
June 29 - July 5, 2009

Free trade could lead to climate ruination because of the increasing economic activities, concedes World Trade Organization Secretariat in a report released on June 26 about impact of climate change on trade. The report 'Trade and Climate Change' is first of its kind dilating upon severe afflictions deteriorating ecology can mete out on the world economy. The slew of free market trades will provide cure for the epidemic of greenhouse gas emissions at the same time, conjoins in the later sentence in a collaborative research conducted by WTO and United Nations Environment Programme.

The objective of the research study was to reflect on balancing point where opening up of trade would become catalyst to low carbon economy or at least would not beget natural calamities. It sees effects of energy consumption on change in greenhouse gas emissions, but it says standards and technological upgrades could alleviate further damage. If we stop spending carbon emissions right now, this will only be a discontinuation of additional supply to past emissions engrossed in the atmosphere, says the report. The mitigation policies can be designed to prevent carbon emissions. One way or the other, importance of free trade is highlighted on the back of environment protection in the report. It is difficult to gather negatives of free market economy when one sees developing economies are moving on the growth trajectory, rise in their cross border exports improves labour market conditions, and adoption of free investment policies bring about for instance medicinal achievements for the betterment of humankind. Concurrently, it is just vagueness on the part of the report when it correlates economic liberalism or competitiveness with the climate rescue.

Flourishing trade and environment protection can go hand in hand, the report claims. "Trade and trade opening can have positive impact on emissions of greenhouses in variety of ways including accelerating the transfer of clean technology and opportunity for developing economies to adapt those technologies to local circumstances." It says rising income, which is an outcome of free trade, would develop social change and aspirations in economies non-compliant to environmental standards with clean societies and they in turn demand regulations of carbon emissions. Trade opening will lead to global innovation of clean environment techniques. In addition to this, diffusion of renewable energy technologies occurs across the border freely. So far so good.

No doubt, the research study has skilfully underlined vitality of freedom of trade and this time by bolstering it as saviour of global ecosystem. What the research deemed to forget taking in to account in its pursuit was societal and economic imbalance that would hinder implementation of environment protection or carbon mitigation policies equitably in all its member countries. The conclusion of the report clarifies that effectiveness of WTO rules and their implications depend on implementation of mitigation policies at national level. Since this implementation requires heavy financial resources, low-income societies are less serious in adapting to clean technologies. Sometimes, inaccessibility to clean technology emerges as hindrance. International community must come forward to shore up these economies to get rid of environmental degradation.

On the other hand, social structure can be put at right by promoting education about long-term fallouts of pollution and resources' misuse on life. Economy is not segregated from this impact. Next climate convention is good platform where wealthy economies should avow financial and technical assistances for developing and under-developed economies to ensure their participation in saving earthly life. Unlike free trade that revolves around competition and often makes contestant ruthlessly outshine other, cooperation is essential in combating global warming.

Several studies have admonished that earth is warming due to environmental degradation and increased depletion of natural resources. Over the last century, global average surface temperature has increased by about 0.74 percent. Carbon emission is among chief causes of environmental degradation, raising temperature gradually. The CO2 emissions are in high quantity in industrialized countries. The report says over the last half century, greenhouse gas emissions per person in industrialized countries have been around four times higher than emissions per person in developing countries. However, the issue of climate change is not confined to developed countries as is considered otherwise since the change in global climate, albeit, owing to increasing economic activities in developed economies will unleash a widespread and borderless chain reaction world over, affecting mainly nations dependent on clemency of nature to run their economies. The report enlists agriculture, fisheries, tourism, forestry, and transport infrastructure as sectors that can be threatened by the climate change.

High temperature causes drought and reduction in rainfall brings fall in crop yields besides affecting climatic system. Similarly, rising sea level is posing danger to port facilities and other communication infrastructure due to unprecedented extremity of floods and cyclones.

The two institutions are expecting watershed in the December international climate convention on mitigation measures if members would hammer out their differences. The convention is planned in the last month of the year in Copenhagen, Denmark. The international community is pinning ample hopes on successful conclusion of the negotiation in the moot as they think any concord would result in establishment of confluence to integrate economic upsurge and environment protection. According to them promotion of trade in environmental goods and services will also lay down a "complementary track towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions to scientifically-defensible levels".