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May 2, 2009 / Mridul

How About a Global Carbon Labelling Law?

The Copenhagen round of talks aimed at building a consensus about the features of the next climate treaty is scheduled to take place this December however, there seem to be no signs of consensus over how the world should proceed to reduce its carbon emissions. Which tool would be most effective? Clean Development Mechanism, a global carbon tax or maybe a global carbon labelling law?

Clean Development Mechanism has been tried, tested and, well, has been branded somewhat ineffective by not only the people outside the system but the people who are actually a part of it, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Bureaucratic delays, procedural wrongdoings in approval of projects and failure to make any difference at the grass-root level are some of the well known problems with this scheme.

The European Union has proposed that the CDM be replaced by a global carbon tax. United States saw a national carbon tax bill introduced in the Congress. The bill calls for levying an ‘carbon equivalency fee’ on imported products, in addition to the nationwide carbon tax in order to neutralize the losses incurred by domestic manufacturers. China has opposed this move saying that the developed countries are in part responsible for the emissions as they are the end users.

With no consensus on a global carbon tax and possibility of a diplomatic row if the United States unilaterally goes ahead with the provisions stated in its carbon tax bill, a global carbon labelling bill seems to be the perfect way out.

Whenever the demands of mandatory emission targets for developing nations have come up, India and China have pointed fingers back to the United States saying that it has a ‘historical responsibility’ to control its carbon emissions. Since India or China are not willing to commit to mandatory emission reductions it would be difficult for the governments of developed nations to convince their citizens to agree to a carbon tax, especially during this economic recession.

By mandating industries across the world to label their products with the carbon emissions generated during their production, transportation etc. the power will be with the consumers. Such a law would add to responsibility and accountability to the actions of the developing nations which could be the first step towards self-regulation.

Cheaper imported products with bigger carbon footprint would face serious competition with those costly yet carbon efficient local products. The demand for cheaper imported products could take a hit which in turn could force the developing countries to acquire clean manufacturing technologies thus resulting in reduction of their carbon emissions. The developing countries would still enjoy an edge in the market as there would be limited change in labor costs.

However, there are problems with a global carbon labelling law. Such a law would only address the industrial carbon emissions and not the household emissions. Household emissions in the developed nations are much higher than those in the developing nations – yet another reason why India and China refuse to agree to a deal which does not cover the household emissions. Another problem – who owns up to the emissions generated during transportation of the goods. And how would this kind of law affect the domestic market. Despite these unanswered questions a carbon labelling bill would definitely make the countries around the world responsible towards their share of carbon emissions, hopefully making them take some concrete steps to control them.

The advanced developing countries must share the burden of reducing carbon emissions and at the Copenhagen talks some kind of global emissions reduction target must be discussed. But even if the world leaders fail to find a common ground on emission targets, they must agree to recognize and share the responsibility to cut emissions.

Image: gwire (Creative Commons)

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