Climate

What Does The New Environmental Chapter Mean For The TPP? Not Much, Activists Say

CREDIT: Brenda Rone/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via AP

Whaling -- which is currently under dispute between Japan and Australia -- might not be dealt with in the environmental chapter of the TPP.

According to documents obtained by the New York Times, negotiators for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement have finished the environmental chapter, one that emphasizes the broad region’s ecodiversity and calls for action on illegal forestry and wildlife trade. But environmentalists say the chapter likely does not have sufficiently binding language and that the TPP overall will make it more difficult to address climate change.

The proposed agreement reportedly requires the 12 nations — including the United States — to simply abide by wildlife trade treaties and current environmental laws. It also bans subsidies for unsustainable industries, such as boat building in over-fished waters, the Times reported.

“We expect that the environmental chapter will have a lot of nice-sounding language,” Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s responsible trade program, told ThinkProgress. “It will mention the word whaling, it might mention shark-finning, but the actual obligations — what countries are required to do — will be very weak in many places.”

According to the Times, the environmental chapter does refer to the “long-term conservation of species at risk,” and “iconic marine species such as whales and sharks.” But it also reported that Japan has been pushing back against potential whale-hunting prohibitions.

Whatever language the negotiators finalize is the language Congress will have to vote on, under the terms of the fast-track authority Congress gave the White House in June. Some House Democrats warned this week that without adequate environmental safeguards, they will not approve the deal.

“A strong environmental chapter… is critical,” a group of 19 House Democrats wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative on Wednesday. “We cannot forego an opportunity to improve environmental protections, enforce conservation standards, and prohibit the illegal trade in wildlife, forest, and living marine resources to a degree that no level of foreign aid could accomplish.”

The representatives said they will not vote for the TPP if it does not prohibit trade of illegally taken wildlife and timber, which Solomon said was unlikely to happen.

“We expect the TPP environmental chapter is going to fall short of an actual ban,” she said.

The countries represented in the agreement encompass 40 percent of the world’s economy, including some of the world’s worst deforestation offenders. Illegal logging accounts for 50 to 90 percent of forestry activities in tropical forests, including in Southeast Asia.

Another key concern for environmentalists comes not from the environment chapter, but from other areas of the agreement. The TPP is expected to require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve liquid natural gas (LNG) exports to the 11 partner nations, Solomon said.

“Requiring the U.S. to automatically approve exports is going to facilitate more fracking, more fossil fuel infrastructure, and more climate changing emissions,” she said.

Environmentalists have also long been wary that the TPP will pave the way for fossil fuel companies to sue for rights to extraction and will increase the trade of high-carbon sources such as coal.

“Let’s not suddenly forget why so many of us in the climate movement bitterly fought against fast-tracking this trade deal,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for environmental activist group 350.org.

“TPP tilts the playing field in favor of multinational fossil fuel companies even more, and makes it easier for them to dig carbon out of the ground. Loaded with provisions that would spread fracking across the world, and enable Exxon and Shell to throw multi-million dollar tantrum lawsuits at any government that dares to regulate carbon emissions, TPP was and is an absolute disaster for our climate,” Ganapathy said.