CRC Consulting

Specialising in sustainability, standards and certification.

Blog – International Trade and Voluntary Sustainability Standards

A while ago, I attended the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s (IISD) conference on Trade, Investment, and Climate Change at the WTO in Geneva to discover where the Trade community and my work in voluntary standards sectors intersect. It wasn’t quite as dull as some might imagine…

Here are a few of my observations:

  1. The stalled WTO negotiations community is now commiserating with their colleagues in the Climate Change community as they find themselves at a similar impasse.
  2. Carbon accounting modelling is fantastically complex but incredibly useful especially when presented with clear visuals . One such visual showed that the UK is off-shoring its real CO2 footprint to a staggering and ever increasing degree to China.

 There is good evidence that with the lack of progress on climate negotiations that unilateral action by national governments to design robust cap and trade systems is the likely short term response and that research into border carbon adjustment policies are indeed being pursued by many countries.

 Next as policy makers struggle to ring fence where to target their tax policies for example, at the product level or sector level such as steel or cement (as one speaker advocated) lies additional hurdles of reduced competitiveness, leakage, and ‘pollution havens’. Pollution havens are where factories relocate from countries with high environmental regulation to countries with lower environmental regulations to reduce potential litigation. Although widely believed to happen there appears to be no empirical evidence (at least according to panel speakers) rather appears that there are several factors that  come into play.

 To my mind there are two further challenges: the whole cap and trade system is based on a ‘consumptive model’ which is going to get us no where fast – and even more worrying that it is based on our current rather imperfect global financial system which is under tremendous pressure to restructure or come crashing down.

 Those of us in the trade and voluntary standards communities we have a duty to look for solutions and develop tools in a world where the reality is, we do not have a workable climate convention. We need to do as much as possible to help countries that want to put a price on carbon but with transparent independent third party verification systems. A number of credible voluntary standards systems that address carbon footprinting are available to support companies willing to take such steps. These include Forest Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance and Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels.

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