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November 5th, 2015:

Trans-Pacific Partnership Ignores Climate, Asks Countries to Volunteer to Protect the Environment

In March, the White House was touting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on its blog stating:

“Through TPP, the Obama administration is doubling down on its commitment to use every tool possible to address the most pressing environmental challenges.”

Reviewing the environment section of the just-released TPP, one thing becomes quite clear. Climate change is not considered one of the “most pressing environmental challenges.”

In the summary of the environmental section posted by the US government it doesn’t mention the climate but does mention the “energy revolution” under the heading of “Transition to a Low-Emissions Economy”.

TPP countries recognize that the world is in the midst of an energy revolution. The agreement includes commitments to cooperate to address issues such as energy efficiency; the development of cost-effective, green technologies; and alternative, clean and renewable energy sources.

And when it comes to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) the language promises “reinforcements” to these commitments even though they “may lack binding enforcement regimes.”

TPP countries are signatories to many MEAs covering a wide range of environmental issues. However, these agreements may lack binding enforcement regimes. By requiring MEA implementation, TPP provides valuable reinforcements to these commitments.

And, of course, there is the part about encouraging companies to volunteer to protect the environment.

The Environment chapter includes commitments to encourage companies to voluntarily adopt corporate social responsibility policies, and to use mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships, to help to protect the environment and natural resources.

So, it appears that the TPP doesn’t consider climate change an important issue but as the world continues its “energy revolution” that countries can volunteer to protect the environment.

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, Matthew Rimmer, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Queensland University of Technology, told Fairfax Media it looks like US trade officials have been “green-washing” the agreement.

“The environment chapter confirms some of the worst nightmares of environmental groups and climate activists,” Dr Rimmer said.

Jake Schmidt, International Program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, concurred in a statement:

“This trade agreement would allow foreign corporations to challenge our health, safety and environmental protections in a foreign tribunal outside our legal system, and it would weaken those bedrock safeguards in the United States. While there are some positive conservation measures, the agreement’s substantial shortcomings should lead Congress to reject it.”

Climate change missing from full Trans-Pacific Partnership text

The final text of a huge 12-country trade agreement has confirmed the “worst nightmares” of environmental groups, with no mention of climate change in its lone environment chapter and weak enforcement mechanisms, Australian academics say.

The text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was finally released on Thursday, with Trade Minister Andrew Robb saying the deal will deliver “substantial benefits for Australia” in the rapidly growing Asia Pacific.

The TPP is the biggest global trade deal in 20 years, involving 12 countries in the Pacific region which collectively represent over 40 per cent of world GDP.

Last month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the deal “a gigantic foundation stone” for the economy which will deliver jobs and growth while avoiding aspects that would have seen increased costs to the taxpayer for medicines.

But this is the first time Australians have had a chance to see what the federal government has been negotiating on their behalf for over five years.

Matthew Rimmer, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Queensland University of Technology, told Fairfax Media it looks like US trade officials have been “green-washing” the agreement.

“The environment chapter confirms some of the worst nightmares of environmental groups and climate activists,” Dr Rimmer said.

“The agreement has poor coverage of environmental issues, and weak enforcement mechanisms. There is only limited coverage of biodiversity, conservation, marine capture fisheries, and trade in environmental services. The final text of the chapter does not even mention ‘climate change’ – the most pressing global environmental issue in the world.”

Controversially, the deal includes a clause giving foreign companies the right to sue Australian governments if they introduce laws they say have harmed their investments.

Dr Patricia Ranald from the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network said the “safeguards” Mr Robb claimed he had won to prevent foreign tobacco companies suing Australian governments for pursuing anti-smoking policies do not appear strong enough.

“The general ‘safeguards’ in the text are similar to those in other recent agreements which have not prevented cases against health and environmental laws,” Dr Ranald said.

“Public health groups have influenced governments to include in the text the option of more clearly excluding future tobacco control laws from ISDS cases, which is important and has angered the tobacco lobby. But this also begs the question of how effective are the general ‘safeguards’ for other public health and environmental laws.”

Dr Rimmer also criticised the investment chapter, saying it was one of the most “labyrinthine” in the agreement.

But he also said the general exceptions chapter provided the opportunity for countries to carve out tobacco from the ISDS regime for tobacco control measures.

“That will be significant given Australia’s pioneering plain packaging of tobacco products,” he said.

Mr Robb has issued a statement heralding the deal, saying Australians now have a chance to examine the text for themselves.

“Along with the landmark North Asian bilateral trade agreements we have concluded with China, Japan and South Korea, the TPP forms a transformational series of agreements that will contribute substantially to the diversification of our economy in this critical post-mining boom phase,” Mr Robb said.

However, the text is still missing some important documents. Many of the side letters with details of last-minute bilateral deals between particular governments have not been released.

Dr Ranald said these side letters are likely to favour the largest economies with greater bargaining power, “and should have been released for public scrutiny with the main text.”

Mr Robb said as these side letters are finalised they will be made available to the public.

Bryan Clark, the Director of Trade and International Affairs at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he was “very pleased” the text had finally been released because industry will have a chance to review it.
“Now we can scrutinise it, and engage in the public discussion over its content,” he said.

The text shows 98 per cent of all tariffs will be eliminated across everything from beef, dairy, wine, sugar, rice, horticulture and seafood through to manufactured goods, resources and energy.

It has also removed barriers to Australian goods exports, services and investment abroad in the region.

Global trade officials hope the deal will establish a ‘model’ for future trade agreements, by setting commonly-agreed rules and promoting transparency of laws and regulations.

Its open architecture allows for other members – such as China – to join in the future.

`Perfect storm’ coming in 85 years

A “perfect storm” could see sea levels surge by six meters and flood the Cross-Harbour Tunnel by the end of the century.

Hong Kong-based World Green Organisation made the claim yesterday and said this situation would cripple the SAR’s infrastructure.

While Hong Kong has been able to dodge most super typhoons in recent years, rising sea levels, high tides with heavy rain and storm surges make for a perfect storm.

“We have constructed a perfect storm scenario, which is possible by the end of the century,” said WGO chief executive William Yu Yuen-ping.

Their prediction is based on the fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-backed international organization for climate change assessment.

“As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air has almost reached a level that makes the temperature increase by two degrees, this climate change may lead to extreme weather around the world,” Yu said.

Using Tai Po Kau as an example, if a storm similar to 2013’s Typhoon Usagi hit Hong Kong at the end of the century, the sea level will rise six meters, flooding the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

If there is a storm similar to Typhoon Haiyan which killed 6,000 people in the Philippines in 2013 sea levels could rise by eight meters.

This would exceed the drainage capacity of infrastructure such as gasworks and power plants. Fifteen percent of Hong Kong is considered lowland area. This includes Sheung Wan, Tai O and Sai Kung. These places will be more prone to flooding in the future, Yu said.

He said according to Hong Kong Observatory data, Typhoon Hagupit in 2008 caused sea levels to rise 3.53 meters at Victoria Harbour a situation that occurs once in 50 years.

However, this may drop to once in five years during the middle of this century and even every year at the end of the century.

Legco no-show: anti-bribery debate abandoned because not enough Hong Kong lawmakers show up

The Legislative Council meeting was adjourned unexpectedly this morning, after the lawmakers’ attendance fell short of the required minimum.

Before the meeting was suspended, lawmakers had finished a two-hour debate on whether the city’s chief executive should be bound by the anti-bribery ordinance.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was about to give her concluding speech, when League of Social Democrats chairman “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung called for the quorum bell to be rung to summon his colleagues back into the chamber.

As fewer than half of the 70 lawmakers were present in the chamber after the quorum bell was rung for 15 minutes, the meeting was adjourned until 11am next Wednesday according to Legco rules.

Since yesterday, Leung and People Power duo Albert Chan Wai-yip and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen have repeatedly called for the quorum bell to delay the meeting’s progress, partly because they were dissatisfied with Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por’s recent ruling to curb their filibustering effort in the committee meetings on Friday.