Why EU’s carbon levy helps rich countries get richer

  • Historically, the primary responsibility for climate change been with the advanced economies, and their process of industrialisation.
  • The contribution of the poorer countries (the Global South) was negligible.

Historical responsibilities under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:

  • The Kyoto Protocol under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recognised the “common but differentiated responsibilities” in the fight against climate change.
    • Successor of Kyoto Protocol Paris Agreement, asked countries to set voluntary emission targets but required the richer countries to make financial transfers to the developing economies for the latter to cope (that is to reduce emissions and adapt to the negative effects of climate change) with the problem
    •  It set a floor of $100 billion per year for these transfers. This was supposed to be over and above 0.7 per cent of their national income which was the overseas development aid

Climate finance and commercial loans

  • In the definition of climate finance, commercial loans should not be counted.
  • Countries of the Global South were already under the burden, servicing their external debt which are exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • To pile climate change borrowing on top of it is unconscionable.
  • In 2020, $83 billion was paid into the climate finance fund to be transferred to the countries of the Global South, of which less than $25 billion was in the form of grants. The industrialised countries have not walked from its responsibilities of finance.
  • Recently, France has convened a summit for a “New Global Financing Pact” in Paris on June 22 and 23.
  • This seeks to provide finance for tackling climate change (and poverty alleviation) in the Global South.

Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)

  • Recently, the European Union (EU) has put forward a proposal, called the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). The US, Canada and Japan are planning similar measures.
  • It involves imposing tariffs on imports from other countries that are seen to be using carbon-intensive methods of production.

CBAM- Issues and significance:

  • It is argued that the stringent environmental regulation in the EU makes the production of polluting industries move to countries with relatively lax regulation
  • These sectors will contract in countries where carbon is priced higher, causing a “carbon leakage”.
  • However, A tariff on the import of these goods by the EU would restore competitive parity to the domestically produced goods that are subject to a higher price of carbon.
  • The CBAM is expected to achieve three objectives.
    • First, reduce EU’s emissions;
    • second, for the EU not to lose competitiveness in carbon-intensive goods; and
    • third, to make the targeted countries reduce the carbon intensity of their exports.
  • This mechanism, starting in 2026, will cover products such as cement, steel, aluminium, oil refinery, paper, glass, chemicals and electricity generation.
  • The countries most affected will be Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, India and China (the UK, though outside the EU, has regulations similar to the EU’s). Only three of the 12 exporters to the EU, have a mechanism for “pricing carbon”

International law

  • GATT of  WTO have promoted free trade to prevent the world from slipping back into the anarchy of the inter-war period.
  • The CBAM is a unilateral move, against the spirit of multilateralism. The problems of measurement mean that it could be used for protectionism. It targets production processes (not the product itself) that the WTO does not approve of.
  • The WTO’s approach is very legalistic and leaves little room for economic arguments. Environmental disputes at the WTO have hitherto been tackled on a case-by-case basis.
    • Its dispute settlement system currently is comatose as it does not have the minimum number of judges
    • To use the existing rules, a consensus or, at least a majority among members is required. A reform of the WTO is unlikely, but bypassing it would lead to retaliations and trade wars.

Fairness in adopting CBAM

  •  The analytical framework for tackling climate change is based on putting a price on carbon emissions.
  •  Since the burning of carbon anywhere in the world affects climate change exactly in the same way, we need a global price for carbon to redress this global “externality”
  • This would work well if there was a world government. In its absence, who gets to keep the tax revenue is important for example, if the oil producers are allowed to keep it, the consequences resemble an OPEC-like oil price increase, where the revenue from the oil price increase goes to the producers.
  • In the case of the CBA, it is the tariff-imposing EU that will keep the revenue  it will be used to retire its outstanding debt.
  • This mechanism also seeks to penalise “free riders”. A free-rider is one who is not contributing, although has the means to do so, riding on the contribution of others.


  • Finally, even if CBAM ¸overcomes the hurdles of measurement and its incompatibility with WTO, it is targeting the emissions embodied in a limited number of traded goods.
  • Its effect on climate change is likely to be small. While the proposal has been touted as a solution to trade and climate issues at one go, there are some difficulties, such as the problem of measurement. It’s designed to help rich countries avoid paying for creating the climate problem.

Kyoto Protocol

  • The first international treaty to establish legally binding targets for the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • It was adopted 25 years ago, on 11 December 1997, in Kyoto, Japan.
  • Although it has been superseded by the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005 and was ratified by 192 Parties, is still considered a significant historical landmark in the ongoing fight against climate change on a global scale.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)/ Earth Summit/ Rio Summit/ Rio Conference

  • An international environmental convention that aims to lower atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the earth’s climate system.
  • It was ratified in 1992.
  • Each participating nation is expected to make a commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions under this framework.
  • A Conference of the Parties (COP) is an annual gathering of the 197 parties to the convention to review the status of efforts to combat climate change.

Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)

  • The world’s first measure aimed at preventing “carbon leakage”.
  • It will initially cover several specific products in some of the most carbon-intensive sectors.
  • It also aims to incentivize trading partners to decarbonize.
  • For the first time, the idea of pricing carbon will be extended to apply to imports thanks to CBAM.
  • It is a tariff on carbon-intensive products, such as cement or fertilizer.