The ability of the United States to make its own decisions regarding how, where and why to build transcontinental oil pipelines has been challenged by TransCanada Corporation, which sued the U.S. yesterday for the loss of potential future profits associated with the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The move represents a threat to both U.S. national sovereignty and national security, given the role of energy policy in protecting the homeland. The suit could also establish a precedent for challenging sovereign rights to address climate change through energy policy, not just in the U.S., but in any country that is party to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The standing of TransCanada to sue the American government is provided not in any formal U.S. legal judiciary setting, but through rules laid down in a trade regime, NAFTA. The terms of this agreement, and other similar trade agreements, are designed to protect the rights of foreign investors over the rights of the states in which they are investing.
If successful, the suit will incur more losses to U.S. citizens than those associated with sovereign rights and national security. TransCanada is asking for $15 billion dollars in lost potential future profits. Furthermore, in an additional suit filed in Houston, Texas, TransCanada is seeking to limit the power of the President of the United States in setting U.S. energy policy by claiming that the Keystone decision was unconstitutional.
The World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya from 15-18 December came right on the heels of the final outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The contrasts were striking, and not just because of the shift from Europe to Africa, from northern winter to equatorial rains, and from environment to trade. There was also the level of interest: everyone who could not be in Paris was watching what went on there from afar, while few came to sit in the make-shift tents put up by the Kenyan Government as an NGO centre. The protest marches, organized by farmers’ organizations, gathered dozens of people rather than the several thousands who had come to WTO Ministerials past. The multinational lobbyists were few, many having turned their attention instead to plurilateral agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Despite its long-standing support for the WTO and its agenda, The Financial Times newspaper did not even send its world trade editor. It seemed that the world could hardly have cared less.
With the recent conclusion of climate talks in Paris (see Ben Lilliston’s coverage here, here, here, and here), which included strong pushes for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) by a variety of government, NGO and corporate actors, it’s worth returning to the recent conversations about agriculture at the FAO’s second Regional Agroecology Meeting. This meeting, which I attended in Dakar, Senegal from November 4-6 of this year, once again united scientists, civil society and members of government to discuss agroecology and its potential to improve small-scale food producers’ lives, support their extensive existing knowledge and improve environmental impacts from the agrifood system, from climate change to biodiversity.
When the text of a new global climate agreement reached by 195 governments was released this weekend, one word was conspicuously absent: agriculture. That doesn’t mean issues around how farmers produce food were entirely ignored; in fact, you can see agriculture’s shadow in nearly all parts of the Paris agreement—from national-level climate plans to climate finance to new initiatives on soil. But a clear path forward on how to limit agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and support more climate resilient agricultural systems is still too politically hot for governments to take on.
The decision to sidestep agriculture, at least temporarily, within the climate agreement was not surprising. Finding common ground on agriculture and food security is notoriously difficult in international settings (see long-stalled World Trade Organization negotiations). Much of the intransigence around agriculture lies in the enormous political and economic power held by an increasing small number of global agribusiness corporations, who have little interest in new rules that don’t fit with their current business model. There is strong resistance to new regulations for agribusiness sectors that are high greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters (particularly the big fertilizer and meat companies). After the Paris agreement was reached, the meat industry immediately put out a call to start aggressively lobbying governments to protect their interests.
On the eve of their Nairobi ministerial, WTO members should remember it is not food procurement policies in developing countries like India but unfair US agricultural subsidies which threaten free trade and farmer livelihoods across the world
On December 15, the world’s trade ministers will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, for the tenth attempt to craft a new set of trade rules under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The so-called Doha Development Round (DDR), launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, promised to right the imbalance in previous trade negotiations that had favoured the United States, European countries, and other developed nations. Reforming unfair agricultural practices were at the centre of the Doha agenda.
On the eve of the Nairobi ministerial, that agenda itself is under threat. The US, EU, and Japan have proposed jettisoning the Doha agenda and the progress made before negotiations broke down in 2008. They have dismissed commitments made two years ago in Bali, Indonesia, to resolve objections to India’s ambitious National Food Security Act as an unfair subsidy to farmers. Agriculture, it seems, is barely on the Nairobi agenda.
Going along with the West would be a costly mistake for developing countries. They may well be facing a new era of low crop prices in which highly subsidised crop production in the US and other rich countries creates overproduction and dumping of cheap goods on global markets. If ever there were a need for new agricultural trade rules, now would be the time.
Changing economic landscape
Earlier this week, a leaked internal European Union document on climate negotiation priorities (posted by Corporate Observatory Europe) made clear that any global climate deal would not mention trade. Also this week, a group of concerned business associations (including the biotech industry) hurriedly wrote (subscription required) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warning him not to agree to anything that could impact trade rules established to protect intellectual property rights. Both documents show why powerful interests want to keep trade and climate agreements separate despite the numerous ways trade rules have not only facilitated climate change but limit our ability to set strong climate policy in the future.
The trade-climate disconnect exists not only within the global climate treaty being negotiated here in Paris. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not include anywhere in its 5,000 plus pages the words “climate change.” The latest version of a U.S. Customs bill (subscription required) coming out of the House of Representatives forbids the President from considering climate impacts in future trade agreements.
This week the World Trade Organization (WTO) gave Canada and Mexico the right to impose over a billion dollars’ worth of sanctions per year unless the U.S. Congress repeals a common sense law, Country of Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat (beef, pork and poultry). COOL informs consumers where animals were born, raised and slaughtered before turning into meat. The meat industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators trying to repeal COOL since it was first enacted in 2002. So the WTO case, which has been consistently appealed by the United States Trade Representative since 2008, is a big victory for Big Meat because it gives legislators who are already in their pocket a “legitimate” reason to change the law in spite of overwhelming consumer demand for such labels.
News coming out of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is most often about narco-traffickers but, in recent weeks, attention has shifted to farmers protesting increased cost of production and shutting down the importation lane at the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez crossing. And a little further south, severe drought is driving Mennonite farmers off the land. A closer look at the history of Mennonite migration reveals a pattern connected to drought and dry land farming for the last 150 years.
Near the tiny village of Santa Rita, 50 miles from Ciudad Juarez, Mennonite farmers are packing up their belongings and heading for Argentina. Mennonites have a history of migration brought on by persecution for their uncompromising pacifist religious beliefs, but this latest relocation is the result of a drought that has ravaged the region since 2012.
With predictions that water will run out in the next 20 years from overuse, all kinds of farmers will be moving out of Chihuahua and looking for land and water to grow the corn, beans, pecans, apples, dairy and other agricultural products that have been the mainstay of this arid part of northern Mexico.
Mennonites were originally a Dutch Anabaptist religious community, established in the Netherlands in the 1500s. They moved east across Europe to escape religious harassment into the lush Vistula Delta of Prussia and then south into Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea and eventually as far as Siberia and Turkestan before reversing course and going west to America.
Paris - After four years of negotiations, countries from around the world aim to complete a new global climate deal in the next week. A new 48-page draft text was circulated this weekend and there will be a lot of horse-trading and late nights in the coming week. Here are a few of the key issues we’ll be tracking:
Can national climate commitments become stronger?
The essence of a proposed Paris climate deal are national commitments, known as INDCs, made by governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Those commitments were submitted prior to Paris and include how much each country will reduce emissions beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2030. They also describe national policies that will help achieve those reductions. Many of these include polices around energy, forests, agriculture and food security.
On our way back home from the European Rural Parliament, where people from all over the Continent agreed to a Common Manifesto on the future of rural Europe, we were confronted with a very real human experience. Having left Schärding in Austria, where the citizens’ Parliament was held, we shared the crowded train from Passau to Munich with many refugees. We experienced the grace of heartfelt and practical kindnesses - the common humanity - offered to them by fellow European passengers and train personnel on the crowded journey.
Most refugees were totally lost - without European languages, without tickets, and sometimes even without a clear destination. Conductors patiently ascertained what languages they spoke, then helped by finding volunteer translators speaking Arabic and the many other languages needed. Cell phones were passed back and forth between refugees and other passengers, as refugees contacted friends and family. And always, between and among refugees and those reaching out to them, eye contact, smiles, the touch of a hand, the offering of comfort to people suffering months of flight and insecurity.
Schärding lies at the border between Austria and Germany. These days volunteers, rural communities and local authorities do their utmost to take care of the nearly 2000 refugees arriving every single day. Delegates from 40 European countries at the European Rural Parliament had already felt compelled to focus on the European refugee crisis, to considering what small towns and villages around rural Europe need, to help provide new homes and work for our newcomers.
The reality on the Austrian ground and on the train back to Munich underscored the urgency of this work.