Can a border tax help slow a crisis without borders?



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The catastrophic floods in Europe last week are another reminder that the climate crisis does not respect borders: Carbon (and smoke from forest fires) floats above them and roaring rivers flow through them. (And not just in Europe, there was also severe flooding in India and Arizona last week, and China this week, and we’ll no doubt see it elsewhere next week, just because the hot air is amplifying the heat. hydrologic cycle: more evaporation, more It is natural to think that we should try to solve the crisis in a similar way without borders, except that the entities which organize our political lives, the nation-states, are defined by borders , and this system is unlikely to perish in the decade scientists have given us to halve our emissions.

Borders must therefore be part of the solution. They should be porous enough to let climate refugees through – after all, most of these migrants are leaving places that haven’t been a problem for countries, like this, that have. But the goods can be another matter. As Luisa Neubauer, Greta Thunberg and other climate activists have pointed out, over the past two decades European Union member states have seen their emissions fall, to a large extent, because they have outsourced production from factories to other countries, as part of a general push towards cheap labor. Now, as the EU unveils a more ambitious plan to cut carbon emissions and the world becomes more protectionist, EU leaders are starting to worry that if they adopt tougher climate action, even more production will shift to locations with lower emission standards. And so, as the Time They explained, they are considering a “sweeping, and possibly contentious proposal” that “would impose tariffs on certain imports from countries with less stringent climate protection rules.”

The Democrats in the US Senate, who are preparing to pass a major infrastructure bill containing significant climate spending, are starting to have the same fear. This prompted them to include in the bill a rudimentary call for some form of “import charge for polluters”. Senator Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, said: “The United States and the EU need to think in terms of the leadership we can provide and the message we need to send to China and other countries that would benefit from the standards. high which we are going to adopt. It should be noted that, because America has not passed any standards yet, there is a slight horse cart problem here; also, it’s a bit rich to see the world’s largest oil exporter worrying about others pushing carbon across borders. But, if we’re lucky, we’re just at a time of weird transition, and hopefully this will all start to sound more reasonable shortly.

This idea is a version of something that James Hansen, our first climatologist, has been suggesting for decades. Write in the hill last fall he called for, as he often has done, a carbon levy, and added that the “most important part” would be a “border adjustment” —a duty on imported products. from countries that do not have an equivalent price on carbon pollution. Despite the economic utility, the policy of setting up such a fee or tax remains difficult. (They weren’t helped when an ExxonMobil lobbyist was filmed explaining that the oil giant has rhetorically backed a carbon tax because he thinks there is no way it will pass. .) Politically Possible: The camps of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both transcended the free trade consensus that has dominated American politics for a generation or more. (Although this old consensus is still reflected in agencies such as the World Trade Organization, which may find itself called upon to arbitrate disputes over a border tax.)

John Kerry, the US climate czar – whom Joe Biden commissioned to get the rest of the world to work on the climate at the time of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November – was reportedly initially concerned about the tariffs carbon. But, last week, Politico noted that it seemed to be softening up on some of its concerns. And Senate Democrats seem positively pushy – America, Markey said, shouldn’t be “Uncle Sucker” as she begins to pull herself together for the climate. The worst-case scenario: Such laws upset Asian nations and make international climate cooperation even more difficult. Best-case scenario: As a Harvard climate expert and former Obama administration official said in Time, “A carbon frontier adjustment is more effective if we never have to use it. If we threaten to use it and that means all of our trading partners are improving their game and doing a lot more to reduce emissions, then. . . it can be quite important and quite effective.

Nothing about the world’s late response to the climate crisis really makes sense, and in some ways it’s depressing to think that economic nationalism is going to assert itself as a tool here, especially because, like Tom Athanasiou, from activist think tank EcoEquity, has repeatedly stressed, rich countries owe the developing world a huge carbon debt. But we seem to be waging climate war with the weapons we’re used to, with the nation-state being a prime example. And, because unfettered free trade, if only by increasing the size of the global economy, has helped us get into this mess, perhaps there is some poetic justice. so restricting this trade can help find a solution.

Pass the microphone

Samantha Montano, who teaches at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, is the author of “Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis,” to be published next month by Park Row Books. The book, which draws on his long experience in emergency management, argues that “all the disasters that you have not yet experienced in your life have already started. Threads of risk have been woven over decades, if not centuries, until they become a disaster. (Our conversation has been edited.)

What should past disasters tell us about how to deal with what is to come?

We have always had to deal with extreme weather conditions, but the climate crisis dramatically increases the risk we face. Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch: there is a large body of disaster research that we can build on. However, our current approach to emergency management is not perfect. We desperately need comprehensive emergency management reform to help us deal effectively and equitably with growing risks across the country.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from our experience is that we need to be proactive rather than reactive. We urgently need to minimize our risks through tactics such as updating building codes, preventing development in high-risk areas, funding community-led buy-back programs, and addressing inequalities. . We also need to build the capacity of local emergency management agencies. Local emergency managers do more than just manage disasters when they happen. They are also responsible for assessing their community’s risks, planning for risk mitigation and recovery, and preparing their communities to respond and recover. Unfortunately, due to persistent underfunding, many communities only have a part-time, or even volunteer, emergency manager. If we strengthened the capacity of these agencies, they would be in a better position to be proactive.

Rebecca Solnit, in “A Paradise Built in Hell,” argues that local residents often lead the most effective responses to disasters. Are there ways to help them do this more effectively?

The disaster research certainly supports Solnit’s argument. There is much we can do before disasters to help empower local communities, including building the capacity of local emergency management agencies, involving local organizations in government preparedness efforts, and supporting locally driven initiatives.


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