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Special> Global Financial Crisis> Latest
UPDATED: March 26, 2009
Former British PM Cautions against Trade Protectionism
Protectionism is not the way to resolve climate change or the economic crisis

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday the world should fend off a tendency of erecting trade barriers in the name of environmental protection and meanwhile should not relent in fighting global warming because of economic recession.

"The worst response will be to be protectionist, either by front door or back door. That is not the way to resolve this (climate change) or the economic crisis," said Blair during a visit at the invitation of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs.

"What we've got to watch is protectionism by the back door, using environmental standards ... as a way of effectively keeping out other nations' goods," said Blair in an interview.

His comment came after the U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said last week he advocated a carbon tariff on imports from countries that don't have mandatory carbon emission reductions once the Obama administration implements its plan of limiting carbon emissions.

Blair, also initiator of the Climate Group (TCG), a British-based non-governmental environmental advisor, didn't specifically refer to the U.S. announcement but said tariffs are "also back-door protectionism" and are "wrong."

While explicit protectionism is "unlikely," the back-door kind will be "a very difficult part of the discussions" about tackling climate change and financial crisis, said Blair.

The World Bank said last week in a report that 17 of the Group of 20 (G20) developed and emerging economies have implemented measures that restrict trade at the expense of other countries since last November, when the G20 leaders promised to avoid protectionist moves to prevent the faltering world economy from further worsening.

"It's very important that we take a firm stand against protectionism," said Blair, who underscored the significance of pushing forward the world trade talks.

Despite the economic downturn, countries should not delay the action of promoting a low carbon future as climate change is plaguing the world with or without the crisis, said Blair.

He noted the U.S. president Obama's call to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 is a big progress but some concerns within the U.S. Congress need to be resolved.

Some U.S. senators are "skeptical and difficult to persuade" about the emission reduction targets, said Blair, talking about his communications with U.S. senators in Washington earlier this month.

"Some people in America are saying if they are going to cut emissions in their country, then China will get the benefit by increasing their import to America," said Blair. "If they understand how radical China's targets and commitment are, that will make a big difference."

He praised China's moves to curb emissions and improve energy efficiency, saying the country is "in many ways on the forefront of action on this issue today."

China last year announced a plan to increase the share of renewable energy to 15 percent of the total energy consumption by 2020 from 7.5 percent in 2005.

For the past three years combined, total energy consumption per unit of GDP dropped by 10.08 percent, while chemical oxygen demand fall 6.61 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions down 8.95 percent.

China aims to cut energy consumption for every 10,000 yuan ($1,298) of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent from 2006 to 2010, with emissions to drop 10 percent.

Climate deal deadline

The former British leader called on countries to hasten efforts for reaching a new climate deal at the end of this year to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

A new UN deal, which is expected to be inked by officials from about 190 countries at the Danish capital Copenhagen in December, should focus more on practical measures rather than simply on the obligations and emission reduction targets, said Blair.

"We should do our best to get an agreement and I think an agreement is possible," he said. "The agreement should set the path for a radically new direction towards low carbon growth, but it should also be realistic and practical."

For example, he said there is a lot to do in fighting deforestation, harnessing solar energy, and developing carbon capture and storage technologies to reduce global warming impact.

He acknowledged the biggest challenge of meeting the deadline would be how to deal with different understandings of parts involved.

The new agreement should ask countries to do the maximum of what they can instead of "forcing them to do the impossible," which include demanding a U.S. emission reduction of 25 percent or 40 percent by 2020, or getting China under the carbon emission reduction targets, said Blair.

As the most populous nation on the planet with world's fastest growing economy, China has become one of the major emitters of greenhouse gases.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in February it's difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference as the country is still at an early stage of development compared with industrialized nations and its per capita greenhouse gas emission is limited.

Blair also called for a right incentive framework to encourage businesses and industries to promote low-carbon projects and better education to individuals to make their daily lives friendly to the environment.

On behalf of the TCG, he signed here Wednesday a partnership deal with the One Foundation, a non-governmental charity fund launched by the Chinese Kungfu star Jet Li, to promote low carbon campaign at the grassroots level.

(Xinhua News Agency March 25, 2009)

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