Wednesday, November 23, 2016

With Trump, It's Time to Talk Carbon Tariffs

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” – Donald Trump, November 2012.

The election of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States of America means that there will be dark days ahead for those concerned about the climate crisis. Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”(see:“Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax,” Politifact, June 3, 2016). , campaigned on tearing up the 2015 international Paris climate treaty (see:“Donald Trump promises to rip up Paris climate agreement in energy speech,” MSNBC, May 26, 2016) , and expanding U.S. energy production from the very dirtiest form of carbon energy – coal (see: “Donald Trump, in Pittsburgh, pledges to boost coal and gas,” the New York Times, September 22, 2016).

The chances of a Trump administration putting a price on carbon pollution are somewhere between zero and when hell freezes over.

Trump is already in the process of disassembling out-going President Barack Obama’s meagre climate change initiatives.  The Keystone XL pipeline is being resurrected from the dead (see: “Donald Trump Victory Breathes New Life Into Keystone XL Pipeline,” the Huffington Post, November 9, 2016), and cries of “Drill, Baby, Drill!” are emanating from his transition team as they talk of opening more federal lands and oceans to fossil development (see:“Trump advisor promises a return to ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’,” ThinkProgress, November 15, 2016).

If the writing wasn’t already on the wall throughout Trump’s junk-science fueled election campaign, the appointment of well-known climate change denier Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition team was like erecting a 10-storey high billboard telling the fossil fuel industry to let the good times roll (see: .“Myron Ebell, the Climate Contrarian Now Plotting the EPA’s Precarious Future,”  InsideClimateNews, November 16, 2016). 

Over in Marrakech, Morocco, at the COP22 climate conference, delegates from around the world are shell shocked.  They’re putting on a brave face, pretending that it’s still business as usual (see: “Climate skeptic Trump makes environmentalists at Morocco meeting sweat,” USA Today, November 10, 2016).  Ultimately,  the international community will have to confront the U.S. as a rogue state – and international leaders like Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had best start turning their attention towards that.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is already thinking ahead.  Earlier this week, Sarkozy said that Europe ought to consider placing carbon tariffs on U.S. imports if Trump refuses to put a domestic price on carbon pollution.  Talk of tariffs is only going to increase as more regions and nations price carbon – while Trump calls for more protectionist trade policies, and for tearing up trade deals like NAFTA (see: “Trump vows to ‘rip up’ all trade agreements,” The Hill, March 3, 2016).

Not that it will likely matter to Donald Trump, but the World Trade Organization has already given a nod towards legitimizing carbon tariffs to protect business exposed industries that are subject to domestic carbon prices (see: “WTO and Border Adjustment Laser Talk,” Citizens Climate Lobby, undated).  While the federal Liberals haven’t yet released the specifics of their climate change plan, the plan will almost certainly have to include carbon tariffs that will level the field for goods crossing the Canadian border nations that refuse to price pollution.  

A national carbon tariff would also benefit provinces like Ontario, which is rolling out a Cap and Trade scheme in 2017. One of the big criticisms of Ontario’s Cap and Trade initiative is that many of the province’s biggest polluters won’t have to pay into it for several years, due to being deemed ‘trade exposed’(see:“The climate plan and you,” Dr. David Robinson, Northern Ontario Business, July 4, 2016).  The freebie allowances they’ll be receiving from the government will depress the market, and may render the whole initiative ineffective. Premier Kathleen Wynne has been intending on using Cap and Trade revenues to fund a myriad of climate initiatives. With a national carbon tariff in place protecting trade exposed industries, it may be that Ontario can quit handing out permits to pollute. That’ll be better for both the environment and the government’s bottom line.

Carbon markets are popping up everywhere.  China, long deemed a climate enemy thanks to its reliance on coal to power economic growth, has committed to opening the world’s largest carbon trading market next year (see: “China Will Start the World’s Largest Trading Market,” Scientific American, May 16, 2016). In a world turned upside down, it was China that emphatically told President-Elect Trump that he would be defying the wishes of the entire planet if the U.S. opted out of the Paris agreement (see:“China warns Trump against abandoning climate change deal,” the Financial Times, November 11, 2016).

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "With Trump in, it's time to talk carbon tariffs," in print and online as, "Sudbury Column: Time to talk carbon tariffs vs. U.S.," November 19, 2016, without hyperlinks.

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