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Trade, biodiversity and climate change

via 'Scoop' Independent News, New Zealand:

Trade, biodiversity and climate change
 January 6, 2006

By Stephen Knight  

Success in trade and attempts to be sustainable make for an uncomfortable partnership. By Stephen Knight.

Stripped to the bone, the public face of climate change, biodiversity management and trade issues go something like this.

Climate change is a natural phenomenon. It is made a worrisome thing by humans transferring carbon stored in the earth into the atmosphere at a rate much, much greater than would occur otherwise. Associated climate change is likely to be equally unnaturally rapid. We need low carbon-intensity economies.

The biological diversity of the planet is changing. This has always been so, but again the concern is the rate of change, the fact that it is in one direction (overall species diversity loss) and that the transplantation of species between continents and islands is creating a dangerous amount of homogenisation. Rapid climate change worsens these problems.

In terms of trade, taking a narrow focus, success in reducing farm export subsidies or import tariff duties protecting producers in other countries will benefit countries such as New Zealand. The December Hong Kong meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Development Agenda was the latest in this round. Consequent success will be a strong driver to boost primary productivity and create clever agricultural value-added goods.

Frustratingly, freeing up global trade also increases the risk of increasing rates of climate change and further reductions in global and local biodiversity. To avoid this risk, the three need to be tied together during decision-making. To a limited extent they are at a research and analysis level, such as with investment in sustainable farming. But such knowledge is poorly presented in public discussions over how to manage the closely related issues of productivity, land use, biodiversity and global climate change. Consequently, there is limited political pressure to take this research and analysis and create incentives for it to be taken up more broadly. [read on...]

Stephen Knight is an environmental scientist based in Wellington.

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