On September 21, I joined more than 400,000 community members on the frontlines of climate disruption, environmentalists, workers, students, parents, and others to demand action on climate and to claim our collective rights to clean water, air, and land.
As someone who has spent many years in the halls of Congress and United Nations climate conventions calling for strong climate action, this diverse, public, outspoken, and in-the-streets action was a beautiful, incredible feat that signals a tipping point in the climate movement that policymakers will not be able to ignore.
But there is another tipping point that will affect the success of the climate movement: the free trade tipping point.
The health of our planet depends on our ability to make big changes in our economy. These changes include moving beyond fossil fuels and building local green economies. However, our current model of free trade, which is written into agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), threatens nearly every aspect of this much-needed economic transition. And yet, the U.S. is currently negotiating massive new free trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific Rim nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. These deals would severely restrict the ability of governments to restructure our economy and address the climate crisis.
If these deals are beat-back, we can open up space for governments to embrace a new model of trade that is compatible with—even supports—efforts to combat the climate crisis. If these agreements move forward, they lock in a new set of rules that will further hinder our ability to solve the climate crisis.
Let’s take a deeper look at just how our trade rules are getting in the way of climate progress.
Corporate challenges to climate and clean energy policies: In order to combat the climate crisis, we must move beyond fossil fuels and embrace clean energy. However, investment rules in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties threaten our ability to do so. The rules actually empower corporations to sue governments, in the secrecy of private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits, including protections from dirty fossil fuels. Such rules have allowed corporations including Chevron and ExxonMobil to launch nearly 600 challenges against almost 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules in free trade and investment
agreements to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec, a nuclear energy phase-out and new coal-fired power plant standards in Germany, and requirement for a pollution clean-up in Peru. Nearly 60 percent of so-called investor-state cases are decided in favor of the investor (making taxpayers foot the bill to the corporation or investor) or settle (sometimes weakening the policy, as happened in Germany). When governments “win,” they just get to keep the policy in place and are often stuck with part of a legal tab averaging $8 million per case.