How trade trumps climate

Although the focus of the COP21 is on the negotiations themselves, the more effervescent aspect of this global conference is all the dynamic events organized by civil society and social movements on the sidelines. One of the most anticipated events was a panel that included Canadian activist Naomi Klein and Joseph Purugannan, Coordinator at Focus on the Global South in the Philippines and one of Development and Peace’s partners. The panel focused on the just transition to a carbon-free economy and how trade agreements are the main obstacle to this.

Naomi Klein cited several Canadian examples, where current free trade agreements and the World Trade Organization have allowed corporate interests to come before a nation’s ability to act for the common good. She spoke of the case of Ontario, where the provincial government introduced a plan to replace manufacturing jobs affected by the 2008 financial crisis by phasing out coal and introducing green energies. Despite the initial success of the plan, the transition was brought to an abrupt halt when a company sued the Ontario government for lost profits and won. “Trade trumps climate,” she repeated after each example, revealing the dangerous power and influences at play.


Joseph, whose work at Focus on the Global South is to analyze the impact of trade agreements on the most poor and vulnerable in the Philippines, spoke of the reality there. He explained how the Filipino government has contradictory policies, which on the one hand seek climate justice from developed countries through compensation for the vulnerability of the Philippines to climate disasters, but on the other, cater to large corporations that are contributing to climate change, such as those in agribusiness or mining. The result is that the Philippines is already living the horrific impacts of climate change, as evidenced by Super Typhoon Haiyan. As he put it, in the Philippines, trade trumps the very survival of the people.

Trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that was signed between the European Union and Canada, were mentioned as treaties that will undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions and keep the global temperature rise below 2 Celsius. These agreements, contrary to the one that will come out of the COP21, are binding. This means that countries are at the mercy of companies, which can sue them if these businesses feel that conditions have been created that hinder their ability to operate and make profit.

Although the obstacles in the fight against climate change felt high and oppressive, the panelists insisted on finishing the evening on a positive note. They reminded the 3,000 people gathered in the room of the successes of the climate movement so far, including the inspiring mass mobilization of a diversity of groups in the lead-up to the COP21. At the end of the day, change is possible because even if trade trumps climate, people power trumps everything!

Here are some highlights from the panel.