Climate Change: A TPA for the 21st Century – or the 19th?

This blog post is part of a series about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

This morning, Pope Francis released a much-anticipated encyclical on climate change, elevating the issue to a new level of global importance. Meanwhile, in an effort to gain votes for “fast track” trade legislation, Republican leaders in Congress are seeking to appeal to a rigid ideological agenda and block the President from addressing climate change in our trade agreements with other countries.

Trade and climate change are inextricably linked in today’s global economy.

Last week, the House passed a series of trade bills related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. One of the bills – the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act – included language that would “ensure that trade agreements do not require changes to U.S. law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.” This language would be added to the “fast-track” bill being considered by the House later this morning, which allows the President to conclude agreements subject only to an up-or-down vote in Congress.

Far from bringing “fast-track” in line with where Americans are, this objective pushes it even further away.  According to a recent Reuters poll:  

  • 68% of Americans believe climate change is real 
  • 66% of Americans believe human activities are responsible for most of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions 
  • 56% of Americans believe that climate change poses a moral question because of its disproportionate effect on the poor

Perhaps most critically for our consideration of “fast-track” trade authority, 66% of Americans believe that world leaders are “morally obligated” to reduce carbon emissions.

And addressing climate change is supported by majorities, regardless of party affiliation. According to a separate poll of likely voters, “Majorities across the partisan and demographic spectrums support President Obama taking action [on climate change] alongside the international community.” 

But beyond the substantively flawed nature of the climate change negotiating objective, the ill-conceived, last-minute nature of its inclusion in “fast-track” exposes other concerns. 

First, how does this objective, tacked on at the eleventh hour, square with the existing objective in the Senate-passed “fast-track” bill? That objective requires our negotiators to “ensure that trade and environmental policies are mutually supportive and to seek to protect and preserve the environment and enhance the international means of doing so.”  Is it possible to address environmental issues if the negotiators are precluded from addressing climate change? 

The U.S.-Peru free trade agreement contained a landmark “Annex on Forest Governance,” precisely because deforestation of the Amazon is exacerbating climate change. It includes obligations that bind not only Peru, but the United States as well.  Would that be inconsistent with this new “climate change” negotiating objective?

Second, if we know our negotiating partners are interested in addressing climate change, why would we handcuff our own negotiators from being able to negotiate these provisions and obtain additional concessions as well?  Elevating environmental protections around the world is not just good for the planet, it is also good for American businesses that strive to meet higher environmental standards than many of their competitors around the world.

A leaked draft of the Pope’s encyclical makes clear that he is addressing not just his own bishops, but, literally, everyone on earth – across all faiths.  He implores us, as custodians of the planet, to address the man-made contributions to global warming.

On this critical issue, as well as others, this “fast-track" bill is on the wrong track. 

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A previous blog highlighted the critical nature of the environment chapter of TPP.  The Path Forward laid out the critical elements of the Environment Chapter that must be included in any TPP agreement. One of the elements is climate change.

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