Carbon Footprints, Trade and Development
DIIS seminar sheds light on the carbon agenda
How does the carbon footprint approach to reducing carbon emissions work? Who gains from it? And how can climate concerns, border taxation and trade policies go hand in hand? The DIIS Global Economy seminar “Carbon Footprints, Trade and Development”, 11th August 2010, examined the current state of carbon footprint standards and the potential for taxing carbon emissions at the national border. Three invited speakers gave their perspective on the topic:
Simon Bolwig (DTU Climate Centre, Risų) gave an overview of existing carbon footprint schemes and initiatives. In essence, a carbon footprint is a consumption-based approach to reducing carbon emissions. When labeling the individual product with its C02 impact, it is meant to enhance consumer awareness of the climate change impact of consumption. While the number of footprint labeled products is increasing, calculation and measurement methods remain untransparent and not comparable. Furthermore, there might be a potential bias against developing countries and/or small scale producers: Labeling can be costly and there is no international standard yet to benchmark against. Bolwig concluded that engagement and interest from governments and international organizations are growing, but that progress is still slow and the need for harmonized, international standards prevails.
Bolwig’s presentation can be downloaded here.
Susanne Freidberg (Department of Geography, Darthmouth College) presented her work on how the concept of ‘carbon footprint’ has emerged as a cultural and political imaginary. She focused on the Life Cycle Analysis approach and its limitations by unpacking the ‘expert culture’ that revolves around it. Life Cycle Analysis is often done on ad hoc basis. In many cases, data is only available for European production processes, leading to potential overestimations of the footprints for products originating in developing countries. Furthermore, by not including emissions of capital equipment, labor intensive industries are put at a disadvantage – exactly those industries typically predominant in developing countries.
Michael Friis Jensen (DIIS) focused his talk on how climate change policies and trade policies are on a potential collision course. The battle is between the theoretically sound idea of carbon border tax adjustment on one side, and the prevailing reality of potential protectionism and competition policy on the other. The issue of ‘calculating carbon’ is a huge drawback to all regulation efforts, as data and data analysis often are associated with large uncertainties. Jensen furthermore pointed out that a common set of rules and procedures are needed if a border tax adjustment on carbon is to be implemented. Before acting further, politicians would benefit from thinking carefully about the implications of such a tax, especially for the multilateral trade system.
Jensen’s presentation can be downloaded here.