30 August, 2007
I am a bit surprised today to see WWF taking the side of globalisation champion Peter Mandelson, as the European Commission decided to retain its duties on energy-efficient light bulbs imported from China for one more year. The Commission decided to give in to its Vice-President, Günther Verheugen, who had been defending the anti-dumping duties to protect German business interests (Osram). Peter Mandelson and WWF wanted to abolish the duties. See the Commission’s press release.
WWF’s press release reads as follows (extract only):
“WWF, the global conservation organisation, considers this proposal disappointing, unfair and seriously inconsistent with the ambitious EU targets to improve energy efficiency in Europe and to curb climate change.
“This is narrowly protectionist and sends a regressive message to developing country producers that they will be excluded from markets for cleaner products created by the higher environmental standards expected by European consumers”, says Eivind Hoff, WWF Trade and Investment Advisor. “This case shows a severe contradiction in EU policies: on the one hand, Europe has committed to an ambitious energy efficiency objective and on the other hand it continues to impose taxes on imports of green products such as the energy-efficient light bulbs from China”.
With a rapid switch to more efficient lamps, 23 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved per year, equivalent to 0.5% of EU greenhouse gas emissions.”
I certainly do not agree with the short-term nationalistic motivation of Verheugen in this dossier but there are some arguments based on sustainability criteria which WWF seems to be (partially) overlooking.
First, what are the environmental costs (not only the explicit ones, but also the hidden costs) of importing these light bulbs from China? The Chinese light bulbs are only so much cheaper because the transport costs for this kind of trade are way too low. WWF seems to have foreseen this question in its press release as they write: “Production and transport account for less than one per cent of the total global warming impact through the life cycle of a CFL-i used in Europe, regardless of whether it is produced in China or in Europe“. Where does WWF get this information from? I hope not from the Osram lobbying papers.
Secondly, as WWF admits itself, Chinese CFL-i lamps have a shorter life span and carry more mercury than European-made ones. I agree with the green organisation that this should be solved by using more stringent minimul requirements, but as these do not yet exist, what about disencouraging their coming on our markets for now?
Last but not least, China remains unwilling to start reducing its carbon emissions pointing to the US’ bad example and the “historical responsibility” of the West. Some greens have rightly so defended trade-related sanctions for big emitters who are unwilling to do their bit to protect our climate. Why should China be left off the hook?
The light bulb debate seems to have become one of those political symbol dossiers which politicians are able to sell to the public as proof of their good intentions to “tackle the problem” without having to understand all the complexities of the issue (a bit like the “roaming dossier” in telecommunications policy should prove that the EU is good for consumers).Willy De Backer