Border Carbon Adjustments and the Potential for Protectionism
Balancing legitimate fears that carbon leakage could undermine the impact of any global climate change agreement are countervailing fears that leakage will be the excuse for protectionism in the guise of “Border Carbon Adjustments”. This would have dangers for the world trading system, risking disputes due to ambiguities in the details of WTO rules over what types of border measures are potentially and actually admissible. Even with good quality data, there is considerable potential for judgemental discretion, and hence opportunistic manipulation, in estimating the carbon charges to levy on an imported product. This is even with agreement on whether to use importer or exporter coefficients. A clear distinction needs to be made between environmental and competitiveness motives for border adjustments. The key argument is that the traditional symmetry between origin based taxes (production) and other charges and those based on the destination (consumption) principle breaks down in the case of carbon charges. This paper explores the potential for regional agreements to ensure origin as the basis for carbon levies in the aftermath of the Copenhagen Accord, while recognising the challenges that this poses for the mutual recognition of emissions regimes in particular.
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