Removal of trade barriers key to reaching global climate targets, says World Energy Council

As analysis suggests that the Paris Agreement could be ratified by the end of this year, a new report from the World Energy Council concludes that the energy objectives set at COP21 could be met if national Governments reduce barriers to trade and investment of environmental goods.

The World Energy Council’s 2016 Energy Perspective report, which includes expert analysis from 28 countries, explores how an open global trade and investment regime focussed on energy and services can foster the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The report suggests that a comprehensive initiative to phase out non-tariff barriers on products currently covered in the current multi-national environmental goods tariffs negotiation would lead to more sustainable and accessible energy systems.

It reads: “Reducing and eliminating trade barriers is key to catalysing the low-carbon economy and enabling countries to develop sustainable energy systems. It will have positive impacts on the energy trilemma – for example through reduced energy and technology costs, enhanced energy security, and transition to a low-carbon energy system.”

Affecting between 80% to 90% of trade, non-tariff measures (NTMs) are often subject to customs procedures, technical standards and other regulations which impede the flow of goods and services. The report calls for countries to tackle the trade barrier to address the energy trilemma and positively impact on the low-carbon energy sector.

Christoph Frei, secretary-general of the World Energy Council, said: “Addressing the energy trilemma presents extraordinary challenges for policymakers and requires an adequate global trade and investment regime. This would encourage and leverage investment, innovation and technology uptake, to meet the climate and energy objectives set by the United Nations, G20 and COP 21.”

Paris ratification

The World Energy Council’s call for greater energy security arrives during a period of optimism for international climate change legislation, with analysis suggesting that the Paris Agreement is set to become international law before the end of the year.

According to consultancy Climate Analytics, it is estimated that at least 57 countries are likely to have ratified the Agreement by the end of 2016, accounting for 59.88% of global emissions. Following recent announcements from both Japan and New Zealand stating their intentions to formally approve the Paris Agreement in 2016, the total number of countries making the pledge has surpassed the 55% benchmark.

The research claims that the EU is preparing for a quick ratification, with the European Commission’s (EU) proposal on behalf of the European Union (EU) now with the European Parliament and Council for their approval.

Climate Analytics has not included India in its projection, suggesting there was ambiguity in the country’s recent joint statement with the U.S. which stated that India had “begun its processes” to work towards ratification.

Commenting on the possibility of the Paris Agreement entering into force this year, UNFCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said: “I’m very hopeful. I think it would send a very strong message about the willingness to comply with the commitment each country assumed in Paris.”

UK participation in doubt

Climate Analytics’ estimation of imminent approval goes one step further than the prediction of former UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, who recently stated that the deal could come into force by 2018.

While analysts remain upbeat about early ratification of the Paris Agreement, the outcome of negotiations are far less certain domestically. Recent reports have suggested that the UK’s future participation in that landmark accord is now in doubt following the vote to leave the EU. Figueres recently said that Brexit would require a “recalibration” of some kind but it is not clear what that might entail.

Backing out from the deal would be a setback to the UN in itself, but also concerns participants because of the US presidential election this year, as Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement if elected. 

George Ogleby

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