Catherine McBride is a member of the Government’s Trade and Agriculture Commission and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Brexit Policy.
Now that the UK is in negotiations to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as well as negotiating a bilateral trade deal with India (like that of our Australian partners), the environmental lobby and those who harness it will no doubt reappear.
They try to create an assumption when discussing this that the UK has lower CO2 emissions; higher environmental standards; and less deforestation than other countries, and especially all developing countries. Their outlook also assumes that the rest of the world has no interest in protecting its forests, its waterways, or its oceans.
But both these assumptions are seriously misleading, and we should not allow them to hold back mutually beneficial trading agreements.
During the documenting and ratification process of the Australia-UK trade deal, we saw some outrageous propaganda coming from the UK’s environment lobby. The WWF tried to convince readers of the Daily Telegraph that Australia would need to cut down over 2.3 million hectares of forest to produce enough beef to provide everyone in the UK with two Big Macs a year (about 500 grams of beef).
This was patently bunkum and easily disproved. As at March 2022, the UK only has 3.24 million hectares of woodland in total while Australia increased its forestland by 3.5 million hectares between 2008 and 2019. That is, in ten years Australia planted more forest than the UK has in total
Yet still the WWF was concern that Australia might clear some of its 134 million hectares of forestland to supply the UK with beef!
Then in September last Ed Miliband led a media chorus to the tune that Australia had “dropped” a temperature commitment from the trade deal. Incredibly, Miliband stated on BBC’s Newsnight that “Australia was one of the largest CO2 emitters in the world”.
This was another claim easily debunked. A temperature commitment could not have been dropped, as it was never included in the trade deal. The agreement does in fact have an Environment Chapter, but that information didn’t make the papers.
As for Australia being, as Miliband claimed, one of the largest CO2 polluters in the world, well – where to start?
China, the UK’s largest supplier of imports, is the world’s largest CO2 emitter by some distance. The US, Britain’s largest export market, comes second. The EU – which has a free trade agreement with the UK – is third.
Even individually, Germany would be the world’s 7th-largest CO2 emitter, and that was before they reopened their coal mines to make up for their now sanctioned Russian gas supplies.
Japan, Canada, and Mexico also have trade deals with the UK, and both have larger CO2 emissions than Australia.
Australia has little manufacturing and even closed its subsidised car industry in 2017, relying instead on imported cars made in Japan, the US, and Europe. Under the new trade deal, Australians would buy tariff-free cars from Britain – yet the potential emissions of British exports don’t seem to animate campaigners.
When it came to the UK-New Zealand trade deal, the New Zealanders were way ahead of the game. Having seen the treatment of Australia by our politicians and media, they measured the amount of methane and CO2 emitted by their cattle (like Australia, New Zealand doesn’t have industrial emissions to worry about).
Unfortunately for our anti-trade movement, New Zealand cattle, including their eventual transport as steaks to the UK, have considerably lower emissions than British cattle. (The New Zealand Trade deal also has an Environment Chapter, and it even mentions the Paris Agreement, but more on that later.)
There was considerable back pedalling on environmental issues after the New Zealand cattle emissions data was revealed; incorporating emission targets in a trade deal is a double-edged sword. But again, the UK’s potential increase in manufacturing emissions wasn’t a statistic that interested the British environmental lobby.
As with New Zealand cattle, weather plays a big part in a country’s total emissions. As does land mass, in the case of Australia’s reforestation. As does the type of industry, level of industrialisation, and living standards.
The use of modern building materials and energy production also means that countries developing now don’t need to cut down their forests for housing, or ships, or heating, as the UK and other European countries did many centuries ago.
Before joining the EEC (later EU) Britain’s major food suppliers were from the Commonwealth. Now our major suppliers are in the EU, whose agricultural and environmental standards are lower than Australia or New Zealand, and yet have unrestricted access to our market.
Some groups of countries have formed trade agreements although they have very different levels of CO2 emissions per capita due to their different levels of industrialisation, climates, and populations.
In 2021: Peru’s annual per capita CO2 emissions were 1.67 tons; Mexico’s per capita emissions were 3.2 tons; Vietnam’s were 3.3 tons; Chile’s were 4.4 tons; Singapore’s 5.5 tons; New Zealand’s 6.6 tons; Malaysia’s 7.6; Japan’s 8.6; Canada’s 14.3; Australia’s 15.1; and Brunei’s 23.5 tons.
All these countries as being the members of CPTPP. Te last three are large hydrocarbon producers (like the UK), while Japan is a large hydrocarbon importer (like the UK), Singapore is a large hydrocarbon refiner (like the UK) and Chile is the world’s largest copper producer.
So how could the CPTPP agree an environment policy?
Yet the CPTPP agreement does have an Environment Chapter. But it is concerned with protecting flora, fauna, wildlife and, unsurprisingly, the Pacific Ocean. Four members – Australia, Malaysia, Mexico and Peru – are amongst the 17 countries in the world that are home to more than 70 per cent of the earth’s biological diversity. They could hardly be considered anti-conservation or uninterested in ecology.
It also addresses: protecting the ozone layer; protecting the marine environment from ship pollution; combatting illegal wildlife trade; protecting sharks, turtles, sea birds and marine mammals; the conservation of wild flora and fauna; protecting at risk wildlife; and combatting overfishing and illegal fishing.
It also includes transitioning to low emission economies and insists on enforcement mechanisms and sanctions in “each party’s domestic legal system”.
In short, the CPTPP countries are concerned with much more that carbon emissions or temperature limits. By fixating on one metric, CO2 emissions, the UK is in danger of destroying its industries as well as its environment – all without having any significant effect on global emissions.
Yet we look down on other countries’ environmental standards as being less than our own. We pretend that the Paris Agreement, where every country made their own commitments – including China, committing to increase its CO2 emission until 2030 – will somehow make a difference to the atmosphere, even though few countries are on track to achieve their virtuous pronouncements.
Meanwhile the UK is importing fracked gas from the US rather than fracking its own. This puts more CO2 into the global environment – even if it conveniently doesn’t count towards British emissions.
One admirable thing about the CPTPP’s environment policy is that it covers achievable actions that will make a real difference to the ecology of the signatory countries.
Adding a notional global temperature goal would just be virtue signalling by the few countries whose emissions have peaked, and which survive on the backs of the less developed countries supplying them with raw materials, production components, and manufactured goods – often produced for companies headquartered in the developed world.
From a planetary perspective, exporting your emissions doesn’t change anything. Paris is for the affluent, not the working populations of the world suppling them.