The CO2 blame game

China, Company Strategy, Environment, Europe, Markets, Sustainability, US
By John Richardson on 04-Aug-2008

In my previous post, I talked about the collapse of the Doha round of trade negotiations and how this didn’t auger well for a new global agreement for setting greenhouse gas-emission limits and a worldwide price on carbon.

The chemicals industry needs clarity. A global price for carbon would enable companies to plan R&D investments over the long term.

I also discussed how it seems more than likely that if no global agreement on carbon prices was reached, countries and regions with pricing mechanisms already in place would have to impose import tariffs based on carbon content. The tariffs would be levied on intermediate and finished goods from places where there were no carbon-pricing mechanisms.

But in this thoroughly globalised world, who should bear the blame for CO2 and other emissions?

Christopher L Weber from the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and his colleagues have concluded that one-third of China’s CO2 emissions are the result of exports. This is up from only 12% in 1987 and 21% in 2002.

Could proof of collective blame for emissions made through the WTO or other international bodies result in icarbon mport tariffs becoming unworkable?

You could spend fruitless years and millions of dollars in lawyers’ fees trying to determine what percentage of tariffs to levy on companies at different points of production and logistics chains.

Shouldn’t anyone who exports to China – whether for re-export or domestic use – carry the can for the country’s emissions?

Might unworkable import tariffs force the EU to scrap or limit its cap-and-trade system out of fear of an investment drift?

The next US president could also be deterred from introducing a price on carbon, especially if the economic crisis drags on. Protectionist sentiment has risen since the slump began.