Nairobi Conference: Mostly About Dialogue

By November 21, 2006Global Warming, Trade

Suppose that’s a standard headline you could write above any story about a United Nations conclave. Or: Delegates meet, talk, condemn America, spend money, leave….

Anyway, Reason’s Ron Bailey, a libertarian science writer, has spent a week in Kenya covering the global warming confab, maintaining his sense of empathy while still mocking that which should be mocked. You can read his contributions here. His final piece — ‘Climate Change Tourists’ Go Home! — makes a point well worth considering: A worldwide system of emissions controls and/or rationing could strike directly at the wealth creating engine of world trade:

While the Green wing of the Democratic Party may be all in favor imposing limits on carbon dioxide, the Party’s union supporters, who work industry, transport and power generation, will be reluctant to go along. The Democrats, just like President Bush, will have to argue that emissions limits must be imposed on developing countries, especially China, India, and Brazil, because otherwise those countries would be able to out-compete American industry and workers. If those countries refuse to go along, the Democrats may end up joining with the Europeans who are calling for punitive tariffs on goods imported from countries that don’t restrict their carbon dioxide emissions.

For me, this raises the fear that imposing carbon dioxide emissions limits without somehow including all the big emitters could unravel all the painful progress the world has made toward freer trade among nations. Dismantling the World Trade Organization would destroy vast amounts of wealth and end up impoverishing the world’s poorest people even more than any projected climate change. For example, a 2002 Institute for International Economics study found that just reducing current trade barriers could add $600 billion to global GDP and raise incomes in the world’s poorest countries by an average of 20 percent. Much more would be at stake if the countries started erecting new trade barriers.

Entire series is worth reading as a clear-headed assessment of consequences, unintended and unconsidered, to battling global warming.

UPDATE: Sidney Morning-Herald headline: Little urgency as climate conference fizzles out