Germany hosts this year the summit of leaders of the Group of the 7 main world economies, in the Bavarian resort of Elmau. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a succession of food, energy and international security crises, the main topic of the meeting was expected to be climate change.
The German government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz continues to try to get the G7 to commit to collective progress in curbing global warming, and one of the ideas put forward is the creation of a “climate club” for countries that want to speed up their action.
WHAT IS A CLIMATE CLUB?
The idea was first put forward by the Yale economist and Nobel laureate William Northhauswho said the voluntary nature of current climate agreements has not offered enough progress.
He proposed that countries serious about cutting their emissions could form a club in which they set ambitious targets and exempt each other from trade tariffs for non-club members.
“It would basically work like a carrot and a stick,” said Domien Vangenechten, a policy adviser at the Brussels-based environmental think tank E3G.
WHO WOULD JOIN?
Scholz is confident that the entire G7 will get on board with the idea. France and Italy are virtually guaranteed, given that the two countries are also part of the European Union, which is itself a club with strong climate goals. Canada he wants to complete a trade deal with the EU after lengthy negotiations, and joining the club would help.
Britain it left the EU in 2020 and is skeptical about joining any deal with the bloc. But a club that includes members from beyond the EU would probably be acceptable to London, especially if it is USA.
Washington has always struggled to enter into binding agreements on climate change, especially given Republican opposition. Former President George W. Bush withdrew his country from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a much less stringent pact. However, the United States returned to Paris under current President Joe Biden, and there is a growing awareness that his go-it-alone strategy may not be in the best interest of the United States, especially if he wants to force China to bet for reducing emissions.
Japan it could also be persuaded by the prospect of putting pressure on its big neighbor and gaining privileged access to European and North American markets.
WHAT ABOUT CHINESE?
It is unlikely that the largest emitter of greenhouse gases join at first. But if you want to export your wares to the rest of the world without climate tariffs, you might have to join.
Beijing is expected to be highly critical of the idea, as it has been of the “carbon border adjustment mechanism,” which also involves tariffs for polluting countries that don’t follow the bloc’s rules. China has tried to mobilize other economies such as South Africa and Indonesia to oppose the plan. That is one of the reasons why Scholz has invited those two countries to the G7 summit and made it clear that the climate club is open to all.
WILL THE IDEA GO AHEAD?
Experts point out that a minimum number of countries is needed for the club to be attractive enough for others to be motivated to join.
The exact details of how the club would function are yet to be defined. General support from the G7, without formal commitments, could help put the issue on the agenda of future summits, especially the UN climate summit in November. Raising support there would show that the club is not a project limited to rich countries, but a genuine new resource for current climate efforts.
WILL IT SAVE THE PLANET?
Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, believes it is worth a try given that current measures are not achieving the emissions cuts required by the Paris agreement to limit global warming.
“The world’s remaining margin of carbon dioxide is running out so fast that we will soon have no scientific chance of keeping (warming) to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahenheit)”, said. “So we in the scientific community are clinging to anything that can help, and one way is for all the big emitters to agree on a set of collective principles on emissions plans and prices for carbon dioxide emissions.”
Rockstrom said the hope is that those efforts will lead to a tipping point like the 1987 Montreal Protocol, in which the world agreed to combat the ozone problem. The fundamental principle of the climate club would turn the current situation, in which less ambitious countries set the pace, into a race to be the fastest, he said.
(with information from AP)
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