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Adelaide, Australia
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News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity. Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming cancelled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development. The result was a collapsing food web. “Humans rely heavily on a diversity of services that are provided by ocean ecosystems, including the food we eat and industries that arise from that,” says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University’s Environment Institute. “Our understanding of what’s likely to happen has been hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single levels of the food web. In this study, we created a series of three-level food webs and monitored and measured the results over a number of months to provide an understanding of future food webs under climate change.” The researchers constructed marine food webs based on plants which use sunlight and nutrients to grow (algae), small invertebrates that graze on the plants (such as shrimp), and fish that in turn prey on small invertebrates. They had 12 large aquaria with different species to mimic seagrass, open sand and rocky reef habitats, simulating tidal movements with circular currents. The food webs were exposed to the levels of ocean acidification and warming predicted for the end of this century. Over several months, the researchers assessed the basic processes that operate in food webs like predation and growth of organisms. “Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations boosted plant growth; more plant food meant more small invertebrates, and more small invertebrates, in turn, allowed the fish to grow faster,” says PhD candidate Silvan Goldenberg, who is supervised by Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. “However, ocean warming cancelled this benefit of elevated carbon dioxide by causing stress to the animals, making them less efficient feeders and preventing the extra energy produced by the plants from travelling through the food web to the fish. At the same time, fish were getting hungrier at higher temperatures and started to decimate their prey, the small invertebrates.” The researchers found that ocean warming would be an overwhelming stressor that made food webs less efficient, neutralised the ‘fertilising’ effect of elevated carbon dioxide and threw the fragile relationship between predators and prey off balance. “The consequences for marine ecosystems are likely to be severe,” says Professor Nagelkerken. “Oceans in the future may provide less fish and shellfish for us to eat, and larger animals that are at the top of the food web, in particular, will suffer. We hope this study will provide predictive understanding which is critical for effective fisheries management.”


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity. Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming cancelled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development. The result was a collapsing food web. “Humans rely heavily on a diversity of services that are provided by ocean ecosystems, including the food we eat and industries that arise from that,” says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University’s Environment Institute. “Our understanding of what’s likely to happen has been hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single levels of the food web. In this study, we created a series of three-level food webs and monitored and measured the results over a number of months to provide an understanding of future food webs under climate change.” The researchers constructed marine food webs based on plants which use sunlight and nutrients to grow (algae), small invertebrates that graze on the plants (such as shrimp), and fish that in turn prey on small invertebrates. They had 12 large aquaria with different species to mimic seagrass, open sand and rocky reef habitats, simulating tidal movements with circular currents. The food webs were exposed to the levels of ocean acidification and warming predicted for the end of this century. Over several months, the researchers assessed the basic processes that operate in food webs like predation and growth of organisms. “Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations boosted plant growth; more plant food meant more small invertebrates, and more small invertebrates, in turn, allowed the fish to grow faster,” says PhD candidate Silvan Goldenberg, who is supervised by Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. “However, ocean warming cancelled this benefit of elevated carbon dioxide by causing stress to the animals, making them less efficient feeders and preventing the extra energy produced by the plants from travelling through the food web to the fish. At the same time, fish were getting hungrier at higher temperatures and started to decimate their prey, the small invertebrates.” The researchers found that ocean warming would be an overwhelming stressor that made food webs less efficient, neutralised the ‘fertilising’ effect of elevated carbon dioxide and threw the fragile relationship between predators and prey off balance. “The consequences for marine ecosystems are likely to be severe,” says Professor Nagelkerken. “Oceans in the future may provide less fish and shellfish for us to eat, and larger animals that are at the top of the food web, in particular, will suffer. We hope this study will provide predictive understanding which is critical for effective fisheries management.”


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

University of Adelaide researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity. Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming cancelled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development. The result was a collapsing food web. "Humans rely heavily on a diversity of services that are provided by ocean ecosystems, including the food we eat and industries that arise from that," says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University's Environment Institute. "Our understanding of what's likely to happen has been hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single levels of the food web. In this study, we created a series of three-level food webs and monitored and measured the results over a number of months to provide an understanding of future food webs under climate change." The researchers constructed marine food webs based on plants which use sunlight and nutrients to grow (algae), small invertebrates that graze on the plants (such as shrimp), and fish that in turn prey on small invertebrates. They had 12 large aquaria with different species to mimic seagrass, open sand and rocky reef habitats, simulating tidal movements with circular currents. The food webs were exposed to the levels of ocean acidification and warming predicted for the end of this century. Over several months, the researchers assessed the basic processes that operate in food webs like predation and growth of organisms. "Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations boosted plant growth; more plant food meant more small invertebrates, and more small invertebrates, in turn, allowed the fish to grow faster," says PhD candidate Silvan Goldenberg, who is supervised by Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. "However, ocean warming cancelled this benefit of elevated carbon dioxide by causing stress to the animals, making them less efficient feeders and preventing the extra energy produced by the plants from travelling through the food web to the fish. At the same time, fish were getting hungrier at higher temperatures and started to decimate their prey, the small invertebrates." The researchers found that ocean warming would be an overwhelming stressor that made food webs less efficient, neutralised the 'fertilising' effect of elevated carbon dioxide and threw the fragile relationship between predators and prey off balance. "The consequences for marine ecosystems are likely to be severe," says Professor Nagelkerken. "Oceans in the future may provide less fish and shellfish for us to eat, and larger animals that are at the top of the food web, in particular, will suffer. We hope this study will provide predictive understanding which is critical for effective fisheries management."


Once upon a time, in the distant 60s and 70s, the Great Barrier Reef faced imminent destruction. Tenement applications for drilling and mining covered vast swathes of the reef, with both government and industry enthusiastically backing the plans for mass exploitation. In the face of the reef’s impending doom a motley collection of ordinary Australians shared a common determination that something had to be done. But the odds didn’t look good. The poet turned campaigner Judith Wright wrote that “if it had not been for the public backing for protection of the reef that we knew existed, we might have given up hope”. The optimism of the poet was well founded. First in the hundreds, then in the tens of thousands, a people’s movement grew to defend the reef. Everyday Aussies turned activists and campaigners. Scientists and lawyers came forward with vital expertise. At a crucial moment the Queensland Trades and Labour Council approved a total black-ban by all affiliated unions on oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. As hard as is now to believe, the Murdoch-owned Australian opined that the ban would have an unprecedented measure of public support and would probably succeed. It deserved to. Only finally did the politicians follow the will of the people. Through the power and determination of the Australian people, the greatest marine park in human history was established and the Great Barrier Reef lived to fight another day. Inherently democratic in its size and closeness to the shore, the Great Barrier Reef is truly the people’s reef. Looking back on the first great struggle for the reef between the Australian people and the fossil fuel industry, Wright wrote that “if disasters in the shape of weather, accident and climate change lie ahead, the work done already has shown what can be done to shield it from such dangers and has proved that people will agree, in the event, to supplying the help it needs”. Unhappily, those disasters are now upon us. Global warming brought the great bleaching of 2015-16 and the dreadful and unprecedented sequel over the summer that has just finished. Our reef is in dire trouble. But while the people’s reef is grievously wounded, it is still very much alive. And life fights for life. Innumerable animals are now doing what creatures do, navigating the hazards of life as best they can to survive and reproduce in the warming waters. Given time and the right conditions, the people’s reef can recover and life will flourish again. So how this time around do we supply the help the reef needs? The big lie propagated by Australian government and big business is that it is possible to turn things around for the reef without tackling global warming. As scientists have made clear, it isn’t – we have to stop climate pollution to give our reef a chance. It is true that Australia can’t save the reef alone because climate change is a global problem. But that does not mean we are powerless to act and we should not be deterred. Because when you love something deeply – as we Australians cherish our people’s reef – then you do all that is within your power to save that thing which you hold so dear. And there is much that is within our power to do. So what is to be done? The answer does not lie in false techno-fixes or the faux-democratic farrago of the government-business funded Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia’s greatest contribution to global warming is through our coal, exported and burned in foreign power stations. So our most determined Australian efforts to save the reef must be directed to closing down the coalmining industry, while ensuring decent new jobs and fair transitions for all affected workers and communities. Again, the balance of power seems loaded against us. First the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and now the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, have betrayed both the reef and the trust of the Australian people by snivelling across the seas, pledging allegiance to the Carmichael coalmine. All too often, the rest of big business is complicit in the crisis by explicitly or tacitly supporting the coal industry. Financial institutions such as CommBank continue to invest in the fossil fuel projects that are bringing disaster to the reef. But, once we are roused, never underestimate the power and determination of the Australian people to defend our iconic animals and the natural beauty of our lands and seas. The extraordinary success of the Stop Adani Roadshow – which sold out across the eastern Australian capital cities reaching an audience of thousands – is just a glimpse of the popular will to fight the coal industry for the future of our reef. We have the opportunity to write our own story, not of despair but of defiance. If we, the people of Australia, stand determined together against coalmining and the rest of the fossil fuel industry then the future of our reef is not bleak but hopeful. The roadmap to full recovery for our reef will be decades or even centuries in the making. And it is going to get worse before it gets better. But we, the Australian people, can again agree to supply the help it needs, to give the reef we love the best chance of future flourishing. Now is the time to get involved. • This op ed is a modified version of comments made at Global Warming and the Mass Bleaching of Corals, a public event held by the Sydney Environment Institute of Sydney University on 31 March.


News Article | July 7, 2017
Site: phys.org

Published today in Current Biology, the researchers studied species interactions in natural marine environments at underwater volcanic vents, where concentrations of CO match those predicted for oceans at the end of the century. They were compared with adjacent marine environments with current CO levels. "Most research on the impacts of climate change has so far involved the study of individual or small numbers of species over short periods of time," says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, marine ecologist in the University's Environment Institute. "From these studies, there have been predictions that fish biodiversity would be reduced - but we've never been able to provide firm evidence before. "This study was done in a shallow-water temperate kelp ecosystem using volcanic CO vents as natural laboratories to get a peek into what future ecosystems might look like. It further shows that forecasting effects of climate change on future ecosystems is impossible if we do not incorporate complex species interactions." The researchers showed in surveys and underwater experiments over three years, that in high CO marine environments one or two species of the smaller, behaviourally dominant fish proliferate while the less aggressive, and less common species disappear. "If we look at the total number of fish we actually see that these increase under ocean acidification but local biodiversity is lost," says Professor Nagelkerken. "There are increases in the abundance of food such as small crustaceans and snails and, because the dominant species tend to win almost all combats with other species and are attracted to food much faster, their numbers rise. "Small weedy species would normally be kept under control by their predators—and by predators we mean the medium-sized predators that are associated with kelp. But ocean acidification is also transforming ecosystems from kelp to low grassy turf, so we are losing the habitat that protects these intermediate predators, and therefore losing these species. "The result is a lot of what are known as weedy species—somewhat the marine equivalent to rats and cockroaches, plenty of them around but no-one really wants to eat them." One way this biodiversity loss could be delayed is by reducing overfishing of intermediate predators. "We showed how diminishing predator numbers has a cascading effect on local species diversity," Professor Nagelkerken says. "Strong controls on overfishing could be a key action to stall diversity loss and ecosystem change in a high CO world."


News Article | June 2, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

The 2015 Paris Agreement was the first pact to commit all nations to limiting global warming caused by emissions from burning coal, oil and gas (AFP Photo/PATRICK KOVARIK) Paris (AFP) - The earliest possible date for America's official withdrawal from the climate-rescue Paris Agreement is just a day after the country's next presidential election. Could the timing thwart Donald Trump's plans to quit the 196-nation deal? In the hard-fought pact's own wording, a party may withdraw by giving written notification "any time after three years" of its entry into force -- which was on November 4, 2016. This means November 4, 2019 at the earliest if Trump, who announced Thursday that the United States was "getting out" of the deal, were to use this option. The withdrawal would take effect only a year later -- on November 4, 2020 -- the day after America's next presidential election -- potentially leaving a very small window for intervention if there is a new leader friendly to the Paris Agreement. "Despite Trump’s announcement, the US cannot immediately withdraw from the Paris Agreement," stressed Richard Klein, of the Stockholm Environment Institute. In the meantime, Washington may opt to withdraw from all climate negotiations and simply flout the commitments made under the previous administration. A different route would be for America to withdraw from the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whose auspices the pact was negotiated. This would take effect a year after notification, which can be done at any time. America's ratification of the convention was approved by the Senate after being signed by President H W Bush. Trump has given no indication that he intends going this route, even saying he wanted negotiations for a new or better agreement -- implying he intends staying in the convention. Only parties can negotiate. As for reopening negotiations for a different deal, this is not explicitly ruled out by the convention's statute. But Trump would have to convince nearly 200 other partners with whom the United States had fought and bartered for over two decades to get the 2015 Paris deal. "The US can propose anything it wants, but no other country will join them at the negotiating table said veteran climate talks observer Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It’s a non-starter, and they know it -- the point is to make it sound like they’re more reasonable than they really are." Trump has said the US would "cease all implementation" of the agreement. The deal itself, which sets out the goal of limiting emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, is binding under international law. However, at America's insistence, countries' carbon-cutting pledges in support of the goal, are not. Trump said Washington would not honour its carbon-cutting contribution, nor international climate finance commitments made under his predecessor Barack Obama. For Arnaud Gossement, a French environmental lawyer, Washington's flouting of the agreement amounts to "a violation of international law". International agreements of this type symbolically commit signatories to their undertakings, "even if there are no sanctions," he said.


News Article | May 30, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

The air pollution around you could affect how well you sleep, a new study finds. Researchers found that people in the study who lived in areas with high levels of air pollution were 60 percent more likely to sleep poorly, based on the measures used in the study, than those who lived in areas with cleaner air. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked with a range of health problems, the study said. "Not having enough sleep and having low quality sleep affects people's performance, increases the risk of vehicle accidents, lowers mood," said Dr. Martha E. Billings, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington. [5 Surprising Sleep Discoveries] "Over time, there is a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancer in people who are not getting adequate sleep, so there is a lot of implications as well as general well-being and the quality of life," Billings said. The researchers used data from an ongoing study called the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) to look for correlations between exposure to air pollution and the quality of sleep of 1,863 individuals in six U.S. cities. The researchers focused on two measures of sleep quality — sleep efficiency, which is the total amount of time actually spent asleep, and the frequency of awakenings after falling asleep. The study participants wore actigraphy watches, which are similar to a FitBit. They detected how many times each person woke up during the night and how long they stayed awake, Billings said. The researchers compared this data set with information about the concentrations of two major air pollutants around the participants' homes. They looked at nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate pollution (PM2.5), meaning solid particles in the air that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. This information came from the Environment Protection Agency's monitoring sites across the U.S. in combination with local environment data and statistical modeling. The researchers grouped the participants into quartiles based on the level of air pollution in their areas, Billings said. "We found that there was an about 60 percent higher odds of having a low sleep efficiency if you had an exposure in the highest quartile of air pollution." Low sleep efficiency, as the researchers defined it in the study, meant being asleep less than 88 percent of the time spent in bed. The researchers found that the percentage of people suffering from low sleep efficiency as well as the total amount of time they were awake increased with the concentration of air pollution in their homes. The study found an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between air pollution levels and sleep quality. Billings said the researchers don't know how air pollution may affect sleep, but there are many possible mechanisms in which air pollution could be causing people to toss and turn. [7 Strange Facts About Insomnia] "It may be because they are exposed to more traffic noise that is disrupting their sleep," Billings said. "It could also be an effect of the air pollution itself that is causing airway irritation. Sometimes those small particles can get into the blood stream and that could affect regulation of sleep in the brain – that's our hypothesis, but we still need further studies to show whether this is really the case." The average age of the study's participants was 68. Billings said she and her team made sure to adjust for other factors that could affect people's sleep quality, such as body mass, age, smoking or having certain conditions, including sleep apnea or depression. Air pollution has been linked to the increased risk of respiratory conditions, including asthma and even lung cancer. But recent studies have pointed to the possible association between air pollution and a much wider range of health problems. For example, a study by researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. published earlier this year found that every extra 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air was linked with a 22 percent increase in risk of dying of any type of cancer in elderly people. Other research suggests that pregnant women who breathe highly polluted air are more likely to give birth prematurely, according to the Stockholm Environment Institute. A team from the University of Lancaster in the U.K. found air pollution particles in human brains, and said the evidence suggests these particles could contribute to dementia. Billings and her colleagues presented their new research at the International Conference of the American Thoracic Society earlier this week. The findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.


News Article | June 16, 2017
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement reaffirmed what was already clear: The federal government is no longer leading American efforts to shrink our carbon footprint. But many state and local governments — along with businesses and consumers — aim to help fill this policy void. At least a dozen governors have joined the United States Climate Alliance, committing their states to achieve emissions reductions consistent with President Barack Obama’s Paris pledge. More than 200 mayors are promising their cities will follow suit. My research with my former student Shayak Sengupta about how cities can benefit from buying electric cars suggests that fuel-free municipal fleets can cut urban carbon footprints while improving public health and saving taxpayers money. States can help curb emissions in many ways, such as by setting caps on power plant emissions and creating incentives and targets for renewable electricity. Most of those steps lies beyond the jurisdiction of cities. So how can they take climate action? Urban governments most strongly impact emissions by influencing the behavior of local residents and businesses through building codes and incentives, public transit and urban planning. Buying increasingly affordable electric vehicles gives cities an additional opportunity to cut climate-warming emissions by reducing the amount of fossil fuels their vehicles consume. Historically, cities and transit agencies turned to natural gas as an alternative fuel for fleet vehicles and buses. However, our previous research showed that natural gas does not provide significant emissions savings compared with gasoline cars or diesel buses. Electric vehicles, however, can bring about clear-cut reductions in carbon emissions. U.S. cities own few of the 540,000 electric cars on the road nationwide as of 2016. The nation’s two largest cities, New York City and Los Angeles, operate 1,000 and 200 electric cars, respectively. That could soon change. Thirty cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, are seeking bulk-rate deals on electric vehicles. They’ve asked manufacturers to submit bids to supply up to 114,000 electric vehicles, ranging from police cruisers to trash haulers, at a total cost of roughly US$10 billion. This surge in electric vehicle sales could make them more affordable not just for cities but for the rest of us too. That’s because emerging technologies typically get cheaper as production increases. A study by researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute estimates that electric car batteries prices fall by 6 percent to 9 percent every time production doubles. Some analysts forecast that as soon as 2025, electric cars will become cheaper than gasoline-powered cars. In some cases, they are already cheaper to own and operate over the vehicle’s lifetime, our research has shown. If cities help ramp up demand for electric cars faster than anticipated, this transition could happen even faster. City-owned fleets are in some ways ideal candidates for electric-powered transportation. Cities operate large numbers of vehicles in densely populated areas, where emissions most endanger human health. Local driving by municipal employees is well-suited for electric cars. For example, the Nissan Leaf now has a range of as much as 107 miles, and the Chevy Bolt can travel 238 miles without recharging. Meanwhile, electric models of pickup trucks, dump trucks, buses and police cruisers are becoming increasingly available. We studied vehicle options available to Houston, which operates a fleet of about 12,000 vehicles, in 2015. Those options included two gasoline-powered Toyota sedans (the Corolla and the Prius), the natural gas-powered Honda Civic, the plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius and the fully electric Nissan Leaf. Since all these sedans seat five passengers, they are interchangeable. Because Houston in 2015 bought 75 percent of its electricity from wind farms (it now draws even more of its power from wind and solar sources), we calculated that the fully electric Leaf would have reduced life cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 87 percent relative to the gasoline-powered Corolla over seven years. About half of those benefits would have been lost if the Leaf was charged from the fossil-heavy grid elsewhere in Texas. Financially, the savings on fuel and maintenance would have more than offset the $12,000 premium for buying a Leaf instead of a Corolla. We estimated that Houston would have saved about 4 cents per mile while operating the Leafs, as long as enough charging stations were available. That’s even before counting any savings from bulk purchases or federal tax credits. One significant problem holding back demand for electric vehicles is the shortage of charging stations. Greater availability of charging stations assures cities and consumers that full electrics like the Nissan Leaf can complete their trips, and lets plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt operate mostly in electric mode. That’s why cities like Pittsburgh have obtained state grants to build their own, while utilities in Seattle and Kansas City are building charging stations to jump-start demand for electric cars. Electric municipal fleets won’t by themselves propel cities all the way to their Paris-based pledges. But by speeding the adoption of charging stations and cleaner cars, they could help curb emissions — while saving money for urban taxpayers and improving public health. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Main image: Nissan Leaf electric vehicles added to the City of Seattle fleet. Credit: Mayor McGinn, CC BY 2.0


News Article | June 22, 2017
Site: www.ictsd.org

INVESTMENT TRENDS MONITOR – SPECIAL ISSUE. Published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) (June 2017). This special issue of UNCTAD’s Investment Trends Monitor examines the relationship between services and investment, including through the lens of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The publication is available for download here. CURRENCY CONFLICT AND TRADE POLICY: A NEW STRATEGY FOR THE UNITED STATES. By C. Fred Bergsten and Joseph E. Gagnon for the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) (June 2017). This book focuses on conflicts over currency valuations as a recurrent feature of the modern global economy and investigates the implications for trade, investment, and other areas. The authors also assess policy options that Washington could consider going forward. To access this book, please visit the PIIE website. STEEL, ALUMINUM, LUMBER, SOLAR: TRUMP’S STEALTH TRADE PROTECTION. By Chad P. Bown for the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) (June 2017). This policy brief examines the Trump administration’s approach to trade policy and the rules-based trading system. The author argues that the Trump administration has been taking a trade-restrictive approach to policy and examines possible implications for bilateral, regional, and global trade policy. To view the full document, please visit the PIIE website. AFRICAN ECONOMIC OUTLOOK 2017. Published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (May 2017). This annual report examines Africa’s performance in various economic and financial areas, including on trade, along with development and governance. The report focuses especially on the relationship between entrepreneurs and industrialisation and proposes national-level policy options. To learn more and to download this report, please visit the OECD’s iLibrary. FIVE WAYS TO ADDRESS FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES THROUGH THE WTO AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS. By Peter Wooders and Cleo Verkuijl for the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) (June 2017). This blog post builds on recent workshops regarding the role of the WTO in advancing fossil fuel subsidy reform. The authors also look at this subject through the lens of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The article is available here.


Can the international trade system be a catalyst for reforming fossil fuel subsidies (FFSs) to help relieve the burden on the public purse, reduce local and global air pollution, improve energy security and tackle climate change? This was the theme of a recent workshop set at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva and organized by Climate Strategies, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The event forms part of a broader conversation on how the international trading system can be made compatible with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Participants found there is significant scope for the WTO and international trade agreements to complement and strengthen reform efforts already being supported under a range of international forums, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Owing to its wide membership, its central role in disciplining trade-distorting subsidiesacross economic sectors and its well-established dispute settlement system, the WTO is well equipped to take the FFS reform agenda forward. To date, however, the WTO’s involvement in FFS has been limited. In notable contrast with the various disputes against renewable energy subsidies that have been launched at the WTO over the past decade, no FFSs have been disputed thus far. In part, this is because many WTO Members do not fully notify on their FFSs, whether because of a lack of data and understanding of energy subsidies and their trade effects, current shortfalls in the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures’ (ASCM) notification questionnaire or a lack of mechanisms to enforce notification. In the absence of case law and targeted research, there is also a lack of legal clarity on the extent to which different types of FFSs can be disciplined by the ASCM to begin with. And yet addressing this topic falls squarely within the WTO’s mandate. FFSs can have a range of distorting impacts on trade and investment, including by affecting the rate and timing of development of new fields or mines. Moreover, the WTO was established with a view to ensuring economic progress is achieved in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, and the SDGs explicitly identify trade as a critically important means of implementation. As such, trade should be viewed as an enabler for achieving the SDGs and targets, including the objective of reducing FFSs set out under SDG 12. Although parallels should not be overstated, it is also worth noting the WTO’s continued engagement on reducing environmentally harmful fisheries subsidies as part of the Doha Round. Observing the discrepancy in how the two subsidies were treated in the WTO, the former Director-General Pascal Lamy characterized the absence of FFS from the WTO’s agenda as a “missed opportunity.” What Can Be Done? During the Geneva workshop, participants identified multiple avenues to address FFSs within the international trading system. While not purporting to be exhaustive, the table below identifies five key categories of action available to WTO Members: 1) promoting capacity building and technical cooperation; 2) enhancing transparency; 3) adopting subsidy reform pledges and ensuring credible follow-up through reporting and review; 4) clarifying the interpretation of existing rules; and 5) making changes to existing rules. Several concrete pathways to help realize these goals are also identified. Table 1: Five Ways to Address Fossil Fuel Subsidies at the WTO It is important to note that these pathways are not mutually exclusive, and many are likely to be particularly effective if adopted together. A pledge, report and review system, for instance, would benefit from parallel efforts to improve transparency. All approaches would necessarily be led by WTO Members. They range from those that are purely voluntary to those that are binding and embedded in the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism. This provides scope for gradual enhancements of ambition. In a similar vein, many approaches can either be taken forward plurilaterally (by a coalition of the willing) or multilaterally (involving all WTO Members). As illustrated by references to fossil fuel subsidy reduction in the EU-Singapore Free-Trade Agreement (which is awaiting formal approval), bilateral and regional trade agreements may form an effective platform to pioneer cooperative approaches to FFS reform. The workshop also made clear that any successful effort to address FFSs through the international trade system will need to adequately address the special circumstances of developing countries. That might involve special and differential treatment provisions, including potential exemptions and carve-outs for development, energy access and other reasons. With the WTO’s 11th biennial Ministerial Conference coming up in Buenos Aires in December 2017, creative thinking, constructive debate and further research on the various options on the table are needed to help ensure the promise of Paris and the SDGs is fulfilled.

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