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Republicans Have Introduced A Shockingly Good Climate Bill
But it has one glaring problem.
The GOP is not known for its care of the planet or action on climate change. Their last presidential debate was basically candidates seeing who could spout the most unhinged climate misinformation and denial and get away with it. This has pushed climate change to become a divisive partisan issue, despite its distinctly bipartisan effect on us all. But it seems there are still some within the Republican Party who understand the risks at hand and are willing to make moves and create bills to resolve the dire situation we find ourselves in. However, have they gone far enough?
This bill was recently introduced by Republican Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy. This legislation would impose a fee on products imported from high-emissions countries like China. This is the first time the GOP has proposed that US trade rules use “carbon adjustment fees” as a form of climate policy, and it marks a significant milestone for the party.
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In a nutshell, the idea of this bill is to protect US manufacturing whilst also putting pressure on countries with underwhelming climate standards to buckle up. Let me explain.
The West has a bit of a carbon emissions exportation problem. As local environmental laws become stricter, the cost of manufacturing goes up, as the companies have to pay for better waste management, environmental planning, etc. However, many manufacturer-exporter countries like China have far more relaxed environmental laws and are set up perfectly for foreign manufacturing. As such, many highly polluting manufacturing industries aren’t actually decarbonising, but simply shifting production out of the West and into these exporter countries.
This means that Western climate policy can actually have a severely adverse effect on both its domestic industry and the climate impact of foreign nations, making it far harder for them to meet climate targets. As such, many industrialised countries are turning to “carbon adjustment fees” like this bill to level the playing field, make the market more equitable, and ensure our climate policies function as they should.
This also has the bonus of promoting domestic production. These local manufacturers aren’t at risk of suddenly having “carbon adjustment fees” levied against them; as such, their products are more reliable than those abroad and possibly cheaper overall, making them far more attractive to commercial buyers. It also means these domestic manufacturers can charge slightly higher rates, which, in theory, could give them the cash flow they need to meet more strict environmental laws.
But possibly the best effect of such a bill is the pressure on foreign countries to enact more dramatic climate policies. Take China; it has to heavily prioritise its economic growth, as it has experienced unprecedented growth in the last twenty years, and if it stops, its economy could collapse. As such, climate policy has taken a back foot, and they have doubled down on their exporter-heavy economy, hence their growing emissions.
However, the climate disaster waits for no one, and the window for saving this precious planet from ourselves is shrinking rapidly. These trade laws effectively bundle these countries’ short-term economic well-being with their climate policies. As, if the climate policy isn’t good enough, then their exports could reduce dramatically, and their economy will shrink.
So, this bill seems brilliant, right? Congratulations Republicans! You’ve actually made a good bit of climate legislation!
Well, no. Sadly, this bill simply doesn’t go far enough.
You see, the US isn’t the climate haven it claims to be. In 2021, the carbon emissions per capita in the US were 14.29 tonnes, China’s was only 8.0 tonnes. Now, the US’s per capita emissions are gradually reducing year-on-year, whilst China’s are still rapidly rising. But, at their current growth, China has well over a decade until their per capita emissions equal the US’s current level. What’s more, in the past few years, Republicans have rolled back hundreds of environmental laws and left vital climate treaties like the Paris Agreement with the express purpose of boosting the US economy. While Biden has tried to reinstate these measures, he has not been entirely successful.
As such, creating trade laws that favour domestic production without also having these domestic companies held accountable for their emissions — through acts like carbon taxes — might actually be detrimental to the environment, or at the very least, not as effective as we want them to be. Sadly though, Republicans as a whole are firmly against carbon taxes, even though many conservative economists love the idea. This is possibly because the Republican Party is mainly funded by oil companies, whose profits would shrivel if they were held responsible for the damage they inflict on the climate. But, this doesn’t constitute a clash of interests…
Look, it is reassuring to see some level of climate action from the Republicans, even if it is just baby steps. I’m also aware that from a particular perspective, this bill is using climate change as an excuse to enact trade war tactics against China, something the Republicans seem very keen on doing (despite the fact China owns over a $850 billion of US debt and could tank the US economy in one go if it wanted to). But, when you are dealing with a party that has ignored science for decades and doggedly supported the fossil fuel industry in all its ugliness, this bill, no matter how slight its effect is, is a step in the right direction. All the Republican Party has to do is turn these baby steps into sprinting like Usain Bolt before we tip the climate too far in the wrong direction. With their current candidates, I doubt that will happen. But we can but hope.
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