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Reviewed by:
  • NAFTA and Climate Change
  • Peter Stoett
NAFTA and Climate Change by Meera Fickling and Jeffrey Schott. Washington: Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2011. 162 pp. Paper $22.95.

While it is not uncommon for critics to link increased trade with increased greenhouse gas emissions, or for proponents of free trade to argue that a larger gross national product can lead to increased regulatory scrutiny, it is rare to find a balanced text that manages to produce reasonable policy recommendations. Meera Fickling and veteran analyst Jeffrey Schott have produced the latter, and citizens in all three NAFTA countries would do well to give it a good read. Their book is clear about the obstacles these North American states —with 7 percent of the world’s population, and almost a quarter of its [End Page 285] carbon emissions—face in forging a NAFTA-wide approach. They are equally clear about the disadvantages of not doing so, and this concern propels the prescriptive thrust of the text.

Fickling and Schott focus on three evolving challenges. The first, which dominates much of their analysis, is the need to manage the subnational regional impacts of climate laws and regulations; these impacts will vary according to regional dependencies on fossil fuel energy production and carbon-intense industries. For federal political systems, this is always a knotty question indeed. The spectre of “carbon leakage” looms large over any proposed climate plan, since industries can easily relocate production facilities or even purchase cheaper energy outside their location. Meanwhile, as the case of Canadian provinces illustrates, some subnational players (such as Alberta) have staked much of their economic future on carbon intense activity, while others (such as Quebec) have taken advantage of natural resources and lead in hydroelectric production. These discrepancies, noted across all three NAFTA states, will continue to haunt the viability of any serious plan.

The second challenge, related to the first, is that of avoiding the unfair curtailment of competitiveness: not only within the countries, but between them, and with relatively unregulated climate markets such as China and India. Taking the first step toward a more robust emissions regime is often viewed as semi-suicidal in this context. Fickling and Schott offer a convincing argument that it would be in Canada’s best interest to move ahead with a firm climate change abatement policy rather than waiting for the gridlocked United States to form and implement a national plan, though we can expect this to fall on deaf ears as Ottawa pursues “energy superpower” status. A third major challenge relates to the need for greater cohesion among countries and substate units in the energy and transportation sectors, in order to increase energy efficiency and expand the development and employment of renewable energy and low carbon fuels. This may be where NAFTA holds the most promise as a contributing factor.

This accessible text offers a surprisingly comprehensive treatment of these challenges from each country’s perspective, and its lasting strength will be the clarity of the proposed solutions the authors posit in the final chapter. They are certainly correct in arguing that a global arrangement on emissions is not forthcoming in the near future, and that regional arrangements offer greater promise at this stage. Can NAFTA be used as a viable policy platform? While there is no doubt that the most promising actions so far have been taken at the subnational level (including transborder initiatives), there is some room for NAFTA and its Commission on Environmental Cooperation to play a constructive role. The authors outline several positive steps that should be taken toward a competitive and coordinated climate policy regime, some of them (such as clarifying Chapter 11 to exclude good faith initiatives to reduce climate change) long overdue.

The book’s brevity limits the space the authors can devote to the internal political economies of the three states, and they spend less time on the actual implications of NAFTA itself, as a trade pact that has stimulated cross-border traffic and generated increased energy needs, than the title suggests. I would have liked to see some analysis also of the environmental justice issue; economic competitiveness is but one of the concerns related to a...


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pp. 285-287
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