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Is ‘save the planet’ fake news made-up to damage trade deals?

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I WAS SURPRISED at the weekend to read that Australia was pressuring the UK to exclude ‘binding commitments’ to the Paris Climate Change Agreement from the UK Australian Free Trade Agreement (FTA). According to Sky News ‘among the areas to be removed was “a reference to the Paris Agreement temperature goals”.’

Referring back to the UK-Australia FTA’s – Agreement in Principle (Environment section) – I could not find a reference to a temperature goal. I have listed the provisions below but if you want to look yourself, you can find the Australian version here and the UK version here. The Agreement in Principle claimed the environment chapter will include, and I quote:

·       provisions that commit the UK and Australia to maintain and effectively enforce their domestic environmental laws and policies

·       provisions that affirm commitments under multilateral environmental agreements

·       provisions to encourage trade and investment in environmental goods and services which support shared environmental objectives

·       provision which affirms commitments by each country to tackle climate change, including under the Paris Agreement and acknowledges the role of global trade and investment in these efforts

·       provision recognising the right to regulate of each country, based on the language used in the CPTPP environment text with the addition of a reference to climate change, that confirms the right of each country to establish its own levels of domestic environmental protection and its own priorities relating to the environment, and the right to establish, adopt or modify its environmental laws and policies accordingly

·       provisions that affirm commitments to combating illegal wildlife trade, conservation, marine pollution and protection of the Ozone Layer

·       provisions with commitments on several areas of environmental protection including fisheries, biodiversity, combatting illegal logging and wildlife trade and conservation

·       provisions that recognise the importance of, and to cooperate on, sustainable forestry management, circular economy, marine litter and air quality

·       all substantive commitments in the chapter to replicate the CPTPP formulation to the greatest extent possible unless otherwise decided by the UK and Australia

·       new areas proposed by the UK that are not in the CPTPP environment text to contain no new substantive commitments

·       replication of the CPTPP consultation and enforcement provisions with minor amendments, including to ensure alignment with the dispute settlement provisions of the whole agreement.

I saw the provision recognising the right of each country to establish its own levels of domestic environmental protection and its own priorities relating to the environment, as the most important. It would, however, appear many climate activists believe the prior provision which affirms commitments to tackle climate change including under the Paris Agreement is the more important and have convinced themselves that it contained a reference to specific temperature commitments that have now been omitted from the FTA text.

As you can read above, however, there isn’t any mention of a specific temperature in the Agreement in Principle. While even the Paris Agreement itself is vague on a specific temperature and only proposes ‘collective progress towards the goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to within 2 °C.’

That’s hardly specific.

The ‘news’ reports about the UK Australia FTA dropping key climate commitments also claims that Australia is ‘one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita’. In the grand scheme of carbon emissions, I am not sure that a per capita measurement matters. China emitted a whopping 10,313,460 kt of CO2 in 2018 (26.7 times as much as Australia), but its CO2 per capita was about half Australia’s per capita use. But if we are going down this road, then India wins the CO2 per capita stakes with a mere 1.8 tonnes CO2 per capita even though it was the world’s 3rd largest CO2 emitter, producing 2,434,520 kt in 2018. For the record if the EU were counted as a single entity, as many do for trade purposes, it would be the world’s third largest CO2 emitter with 2,871,000 kt in 2018.

If we measured CO2 emission per square kilometre of landmass the tables would be turned, and Australia would have one of the world’s lowest levels of emission, but what would be the point? The atmosphere doesn’t recognise borders any more than it recognises national populations, it is only concerned with total emissions, jet streams and trade winds.

The reports incited more fake outrage. According to the BBC the executive director of Greenpeace, John Sauven, claimed that “The UK government pledged to embed the environment at the very heart of trade, including supporting the Paris Agreement on climate and zero deforestation in supply chains“. As the executive director of Greenpeace, I assume he knows that Britain’s second biggest source of renewable electricity is biomass. Biomass electricity is produced by burning wood but is still considered to be renewable, even though burning wood releases more CO2 than burning coal, because the carbon released will be re-absorbed during tree regrowth – provided of course that the burnt forests are replanted. So, does the pledge of zero deforestation in the UK’s trade supply chains, also extend to our electricity supply chains? Either way, Sauven may be interested to know that between 2014 and 31 October 2020 Australia planted 27.1 million trees and has pledged to plant one billion trees by 2030.

Labour couldn’t resist the pile-on either. Ed Miliband was quoted in the Express, and then repeated on the Labour website: “Australia is one of the world’s biggest polluters and key to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. But rather than piling pressure on them, the Government has simply rolled over.” As the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Miliband might be interested to know that Australia doesn’t even make the world top 15 CO2 emitters but of those that are actually the ‘world’s biggest polluters’ – the UK trades with all of them except Iran and has signed trade deals with Japan, Germany, South Korea, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico and is negotiating a trade deal with India. Australia is not ‘key’ to the goal of limiting global warming any more than the UK is: both countries could stop all their emissions tomorrow, but any shortfall would be quickly made up by China, India and other developing nations.

So, should we get excited about the wording of the UK Australia FTA when one country is burning wood and the other burning coal but planting trees? It is easy for activists to select statistics to serve their purposes and for countries to choose starting points for measurements that make their achievements sound better. I am not arguing that Australia is the golden child of carbon reduction, but I fear that this manufactured outrage may have another purpose.

I suspect this is another attempt to scupper the UK Australia trade agreement as it is the UK’s first completely new trade agreement since the UK left the EU and with a country that does not have a similar EU trade agreement. For the Continuity Remainers and the Re-join Movement – these new UK trade agreements must be blocked or rendered useless with continued trade barriers to prevent any efficient non-EU products gaining a foothold in the EU’s captured UK market.

We saw this with the tiny quotas offered to Australian agricultural products even though the National Food Strategy(NFS) admits on page 238 that “UK beef production is 2 to 4 times more expensive than Australian beef production” and that there is “evidence to suggest that some overseas farmers can produce food at rather lower environmental cost than UK farmers.” The NFS uses New Zealand lamb as an example, but any meat fed on locally produced grasses or grains will have a lower carbon footprint than animals fed on imported grains. This carbon footprint will be even lower if the UK only imports the cuts of meat they intend to eat, rather than importing enough feed to produce a whole animal if half of the animal will not be eaten but sent to the renderer or exported (again).

If this trade deal were actually about the environment, then the UK should be importing a lot more grass-fed meat from Australia rather than the small amount allowed in the FTA quotas. But more importantly why would the UK-Australia FTA need to reiterate an international agreement both countries have signed? I suspect this manufactured activist outrage is for protectionist reasons rather than for environmental ones.

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Photo of cleared forest by magann from Adobe Stock

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