Environmental activists are traveling to Paris this week, using the global climate conference as a platform to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal they say undermines the summit’s goals.
Representatives and lobbyists for the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy plan to meet with delegates and host strategy sessions and other public events at the Paris conference to voice their opposition to the trade deal.
The pact, which was reached between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations in October, will not be voted on by Congress until spring 2016 or later. But environmental groups are moving aggressively to oppose it, and the Paris climate talks present a chance for them to lobby officials from other TPP countries, not just U.S. lawmakers.
“Right now, the world’s eyes are on Paris for many reasons,” said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s responsible trade program. “We have such an opportunity to create an outcome that sets us on a path to limiting global temperature rise and supporting countries vulnerable to climate impact. At the same time, Congress and parliaments in other countries are beginning to consider a sweeping set of trade rules that could directly undermine the environmental goals of climate agreements countries are seeking in Paris.”
Back in Washington, congressional Republicans are trying to curtail President Obama’s climate change agenda. On Tuesday, the House voted to reject Environmental Protection Agency rulings to limit carbon emissions from existing and new power plants. (The Senate approved the resolutions last month; they will not have any practical effect, however, as resolutions are nonbinding.)
Republicans want to attach similar language to the must-pass government spending bill expiring Dec. 11, as well as language to prevent Obama from making good on his pledge to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries slash pollution.
Environmental groups contend that the pact would weaken governments’ abilities to combat climate change by encouraging the production and export of fossil fuels, natural gas and crude oil, spurring an increase in emissions by shifting U.S. manufacturing to countries with fewer environmental regulations and expanding industrial agriculture and animal production, which are major greenhouse-gas emitters.
“These agreements are really locking us into dependence on fossil fuels when we need to be fully ramping up to 100 percent clean energy and leaving the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground,” Solomon said.
Environmentalists also oppose a part of the trade deal called the investor-state dispute settlement provision, which would allow multinational corporations and investors to challenge foreign governments over environmental and public health regulations — if they find those rules cut into their profits — before international arbitration panels instead of U.S. courts.
The full text of the TPP was released Nov. 5. The U.S. International Trade Commission, which will issue a report on the economic effect of the trade deal, recently said it anticipates releasing the report to the president and Congress on May 18, which means Congress would probably vote on the trade deal after that.
“We’ll be urging members of Congress to vote no,” Solomon said.
Trade and climate policy have long been viewed as separate issues — until now.
The last major trade deal was negotiated more 20 years ago, before climate change was as widely acknowledged as it is today, said Ben Lilliston, director of corporate strategies and climate change at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. So the goal of the group’s presence in Paris, he said, is not only to raise concerns about the TPP, but also to emphasize the link between climate change and trade agreements in general.
“In the short term, we think [the TPP] is a bad deal for the climate, and we would like to see it rejected,” Lilliston said. “The longer-term goal is to get countries that come to the negotiating table on trade to understand they need to assess the climate impacts of the trade agreements they’re negotiating.”