Obama’s Trade Agenda Smacks Down the Climate

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Obama’s Trade Agenda Smacks Down the Climate

'These trade agreements fuel an extractive form of globalization that has negatively impacted jobs and inequality, and have also been devastating for the climate.'

Protest this month against the TTIP.  (Photo: greensefa/flickr/cc)

President Obama, like the Bushes and Clinton before him, is all in on expanding the type of free trade multinational corporations love. Unfortunately, these trade agreements fuel an extractive form of globalization that has negatively impacted jobs and inequality, and have also been devastating for the climate. This week 40 groups—many of them focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change—wrote Congress calling for the rejection of Fast Track trade authority, which would speed through two mega trade deals without fully assessing their impacts on the climate.

The letter is timely. In the next few weeks, Congress will consider whether to surrender their role under the Constitution to influence trade agreements before they are completed and grant the President Fast Track authority. Fast Track limits Congress’ role on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments and limited debate. President Obama wants Fast Track to pass two massive trade deals—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a dozen Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe.  Both TPP and TTIP have been negotiated in secret, with only restricted access to the text for Members of Congress (but much greater access for corporate trade advisors).

“There is little question that the economic globalization largely driven by trade deals over the last several decades has contributed to the expansion of fossil fuel and other dirty energy production that cause climate change, expanded deforestation and other methods of natural resource extraction, while undermining local and community-level responses to climate change,” the groups wrote. “We are concerned that Fast Track authority would expedite the quick passage of trade agreements without a full debate or assessment of climate and other potential negative impacts, and threatens to undermine efforts to address climate change at the local and community level.”

The letter outlines how trade rules established in NAFTA and at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have contributed to: the expansion of the tar sands in Canada; the undermining of green job creation linked to locally-sourced energy; establishing the right of multinational corporations to legally challenge the ability of countries to set their own energy policy; and the weakening of the rights of local communities to prohibit fracking.

Specific climate concerns about TPP and TTIP include a potential requirement to automatically approve all exports of natural gas to countries included in the agreements. This would greatly expand fracking in rural communities around the country. Both TTIP and TPP grant multinational corporations additional legal rights to challenge local rules and regulations.

The letter cited the challenges facing many rural communities trying to respond to climate change, emphasizing that “communities must retain control over their local natural resources.” Many rural communities are facing climate-related challenges such as: mounting energy costs, rising variability in farm production, transportation infrastructure damage, insurance rate increases and less stable water availability. At the same time, community-level responses to climate change are taking hold.

“Climate impacts at the community level have not been fully or adequately considered prior to passing past trade deals,” the groups wrote. “This has been a crucial mistake that continues to drive global increases in greenhouse gas emissions and hinders our ability to build bottom-up solutions to climate change.”

President Obama is certainly not alone in ignoring the enormous role trade rules have on responses to climate change. The UN global climate talks virtually ignore the role trade agreements played in incentivizing polluters to offshore their emissions to countries with weaker environmental protections, while simultaneously granting greater legal rights for investors in dirty energy production or activities that drive deforestation. If we hope to effectively respond to climate change, we’re going to have to reform our trade rules, starting with rejecting Fast Track—the sooner the better. 

Ben Lilliston

Ben Lilliston oversees programmatic work at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and is the co-author of the book Genetically Engineered Foods: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers.

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