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"The greening of globalisation"
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"The greening of globalisation"

Email sent to the Financial Times on 7 January 2008, reacting to an editorial of 4 January 2008 (This email was followed-up by a normal letter on 9 January 2007, thus far (21.1.08) without reply)

Dear Mr Lionel Franklin Barber,

"Protectionism can hide behind concern for the environment," you write. That may be correct. But the remainder of your deliberations are environmentally and economically incorrect.

Let me explain, in a restricted number of abbreviated points.

1. The earth is round and its space and resources are finite, thereby setting the limits to economics - on which Martin Wolf started to reflect publicly ("The dangers of living in a zero-sum world economy");

2. We, humanity, are already overpopulating the planet and overconsuming non-renewable resources far beyond the earth's carrying capacity;

3. Climate change is just one kind of environmental pollution and depletion caused by our excessive economic activities;

4. Economic growth - for which globalisation is the overt rationale - is increasing the resource depletion and greenhouse gas emission rates. "Sustainable growth", "immaterial growth", a "services society", etc., are fairy tales only;

5. Biofuels is an environmentally destructive trial to maintain our present exuberant life-styles and thereby continue the resources wastage because of a million activities and products of modern times. Flowers must not be flown in from overseas, nor must they be grown in greenhouses beyond the normal season;

6. Our industrial society is totally dependent on fossil fuels - for which there is no replacement. Liquid and gaseous fuels are running out soon - 25 years, 50 years, does it matter? - and then modernity will grind to a halt. Hoping for Yet-To-Be-Invented-Technology prevents us from taking adaptive measures and saving oil for necessary uses such as health and some key technologies;

7. Climate change has been called a "market failure". In that sense fighting climate change with more of the same, i.e. globalisation, is pouring oil into the fire,

8. If climate change would be "an opportunity" we should be interested in fanning the fire, burn more, grow our economies, endlessly.

9. Under the present business-as-usual scenario of economic and population growth my grandchildren (I'm 65) will live and starve in the ashes of your "greening of globablisation".

Please do not hesitate asking for details, should the above not be convincing.

With kind regards ... Helmut Lubbers

Helmut Ewald Lubbers, BE MSocSc DipEcol
ecology discovery foundation ecoglobe
not-for-profit independent ecology advocacy organisation
registered in Wellington, New Zealand
14, bd Carl-Vogt, Geneva, Switzerland
+41 22 3212320
The greening of globalisation
Published: January 3 2008 19:36 | Last updated: January 3 2008 19:36

One of the remarkable and heartening features of the global economy over the past couple of years has been the high ratio of rhetorical protectionist sabre-rattling to actual restrictions on international trade in goods and services.

But as negotiators meet in Geneva for new talks on the Doha Round the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Protectionism has a miraculous ability to shape-shift, or at least an endless ability to exploit new issues to insinuate itself afresh into the public policy debate. Examples from the recent past range from spurious appeals to national security (the Dubai Ports World fiasco) to concerns over Asian currency manipulation and the safety of products made in China.

This is not to deny the existence of real and substantive problems in those areas. But the alacrity with which the usual suspects on Capitol Hill and within the EU member states seize on each new issue to push the same old calls for tariffs, or other barriers to imports and foreign investment, suggests that opportunism rather than reason is driving much of the argument.

The latest vehicle within which protectionism can shelter is a concern for the environment which, though right and proper in itself, is vulnerable to manipulation by sectional trade interests. Both EU and US politicians the European voices unsurprisingly emanating from Paris, the American ones from the power industry and its unions have called for some version of a carbon border tax, which would impose new tariffs on imports according to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during their manufacture.

Assuming these merely equalised the carbon taxes paid by domestic and foreign producers, they need not necessarily be against World Trade Organisation rules, which allow countries to use trade policy to stipulate production methods and protect natural resources as long as they do not discriminate between companies from different countries. But that does not make them a good idea. The problem with the unilateral imposition of tariffs is that, as US trade representative Susan Schwab rightly warned fellow trade ministers in December's climate change talks in Bali, it could very easily lead to tit-for-tat restrictions as other countries craft their own import restrictions.

The irony of this is that climate change ought to be an opportunity as much as a threat for the globalisation of markets in goods and services. The increased efficiency that comes from economies being able to specialise can help minimise carbon output by ensuring that the lowest-emitting country does the job. It creates a smaller carbon footprint, for example, to grow flowers in east Africa and fly them to London than it does to raise them in heated greenhouses in Europe itself.

Similarly, the growing demand for biofuels in Europe and the US would be much more efficiently met, from both an environmental and an economic standpoint, if distributors were able to buy the cheapest available. But the vested interests in the ethanol industry in the US and biofuels in the EU have ensured that expensive and inefficient domestic production from corn and other grains is protected by tariffs and subsidies from competition from low-cost, low-carbon sugarcane ethanol from Brazil.

Making globalisation an ally of the environment depends on getting the prices right and then letting the market, where possible, work. Global carbon taxes would be a good way of doing this, ensuring that the price of each product reflected the environmental cost of making it. A global trade in carbon emissions would be another.

Such agreements will be far harder to negotiate than simply slapping on carbon border taxes. But they are also fairer, more efficient, and far less likely to inflame protectionist sentiment in trading partners than unilaterally restricting imports in the name of halting climate change.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
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