The Threat of Pollution Tariffs
Economists Warn of a Climate Trade War
By Markus Becker and Christoph Seidler
These days, screwing with the environment could cost you: The failed summit in Copenhagen has spawned the idea for a carbon surcharge in global trade. Just how serious are the threats from Western politicians against China & Co.? International lawyers and environmental economists are skeptical.
John Kerry was on a roll. At the Copenhagen climate summit, the former US presidential candidate delivered a fiery speech that was mostly directed at China. If the US has to accept binding targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, then Beijing must do the same, Kerry told his audience. Workers in the US should not "lose their jobs to India and China because those countries are not participating in a way that is measurable, reportable and verifiable," he said.
This was an expression of the old fear in industrialized countries that aggressive action on climate change could lead to local economic disadvantages. Environmentalist politicians and academics have long been calling for the establishment of a global emissions trade. It is a simple and captivating idea for many: Each state gets a certain amount of CO2 allowances. Those who want to emit more must buy emissions rights from other countries that emit less CO2. Ideally, poorer countries would automatically make money, and rich countries would at the same time have a financial incentive to reduce their CO2 emissions.