During a rally outside the White House on December 1, 2022, demonstrators urge French President Emmanuel Macron to stop using trade rules to block climate action.

Demonstrators urge French President Emmanuel Macron to stop using trade rules to block climate action during a rally outside the White House on December 1, 2022. (Photo: Public Citizen)

Climate Activists Tell Macron to Stop Using Trade Rules to Thwart Clean Energy

"Governments should be empowered to fight climate change and support the clean energy transition without fear of being undermined by antiquated trade rules," said one advocate.

Environmental campaigners implored French President Emmanuel Macron to stop inhibiting sorely needed climate action by weaponizing global trade rules during a Thursday night protest outside the White House, where U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Macron for the first state visit of his tenure.

"We simply do not have time for governments to continue using outdated trade agreements to attack and undermine climate action."

In a nod to the ongoing World Cup, activists donning referee outfits and red cards called on Macron to stop threatening to launch a trade dispute against domestic electric vehicle manufacturing incentives, renewable energy tax credits, and other green provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed earlier this year by the U.S. Congress.

"Macron claims France is a climate leader, but his vocal critique of the Inflation Reduction Act's climate measures deserves a penalty for hypocrisy," Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch tweeted.

Melinda St. Louis, the group's director, added: "Activists braved the cold to issue the 'red card' for Macron's threats to U.S. climate law on behalf of European business interests."

"President Macron clearly cares about climate change, so he and other European leaders should drop all the complaints about the IRA and threats to launch a trade challenge against it," St. Louis said in a statement. "Governments should be empowered to fight climate change and support the clean energy transition without fear of being undermined by antiquated trade rules."

As Politicoreported, Macron has "bristled against tax incentives for clean energy included in the Inflation Reduction Act--a move that European leaders fear could cause sectors of their own economies to shift operations to the United States."

According to the news outlet: "On Thursday, Biden made 'no apologies' for the legislation but acknowledged 'glitches' in the bill, declaring the U.S. 'never intended to exclude' allies who were cooperating with Washington. He also suggested there were 'tweaks we can make' to satisfy allies."

The rally outside the White House comes as progressive advocacy groups escalate their demands to prioritize climate action over corporate-friendly trade rules ahead of next week's U.S.-E.U. Trade and Technology Council (TTC) talks in Maryland.

In an analysis published Thursday, the Trade Justice Education Fund and the Sierra Club made the case for the urgent adoption of a "climate peace clause," which they defined as a "commitment from governments to refrain from using dispute settlement mechanisms in international trade agreements to challenge other countries' climate mitigation and/or clean energy transition measures."

"In the face of increasing use of trade pacts to challenge climate policies," the groups explained, "a climate peace clause would help governments safeguard existing climate mitigation and transition measures by protecting them from trade challenges and incentivize and offer countries time to work together and resolve conflicts between trade agreements and the imperative for climate action."

Hebah Kassam, director of the Sierra Club's Living Economy program, noted that the world "is not on track to reduce emissions at the scale needed to avoid irreversible damage to communities and ecosystems."

"Governments must have and use every tool in the toolbox to ratchet up climate ambition, and we simply do not have time for governments to continue using outdated trade agreements to attack and undermine climate action," said Kassam. "We are calling on the U.S. to propose a climate peace clause in the TTC negotiations to end trade attacks on climate policies such as initiatives to create green jobs and healthier communities."

"A climate peace clause is a commonsense step the U.S. and E.U. can take right now to show leadership both on trade and on climate."

According to Trade Justice Education Fund executive director Arthur Stamoulis, "Language similar to a climate peace clause had been included in TTC text leaked earlier this year, but was later reported to have been removed."

"As two trusted trading partners committed to tackling climate change, a climate peace clause is a commonsense step the U.S. and E.U. can take right now to show leadership both on trade and on climate," said Stamoulis. "We urge the U.S. to make good on its promise to create a worker- and climate-friendly model of trade and to propose and adopt a climate peace clause in the TTC."

Also on Thursday, the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, which represents more than 70 consumer advocacy organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, released a statement that said, in part, "If the U.S. and E.U. are serious about making trade more sustainable, they must first ensure that trade challenges do not undermine domestic climate policies needed to support the green transition of our economies."

The coalition called on the European Union and Washington to "find a solution to avoid a trade dispute around the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act that would weaken the new climate policy."

North American production requirements were key to securing the political support needed to pass the IRA, but as the Trade Justice Education Fund and the Sierra Club's new research details, progress on creating green jobs and slashing planet-heating pollution remains at risk of being derailed by Investor-State Dispute Settlement complaints and other objections lodged at neoliberal trade institutions.

To take just two examples of recent World Trade Organization (WTO) state-to-state cases mentioned in the paper, the U.S. successfully challenged India's program subsidizing local solar production in 2017. Two years later, India successfully challenged clean energy programs in eight U.S. states that included "buy-local" rules.

The Trade Justice Education Fund, the Sierra Club, and Public Citizen held a webinar last month documenting how corporate-managed trade agreements are impeding climate action. Recent actions follow a May letter in which more than 150 U.S.-based organizations urged the Biden administration to support a climate peace clause.

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