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Would Green Protectionism Work?

It's not just the Bush administration that's resisting mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. Now Russia, too, has announced that it won't accept binding caps when Kyoto comes up for revisions in 2012, either. "In the foreseeable future, this will not be our model, no," said Vsevolod Gavrilov, Russia's carbon czar.

In the meantime, some EU leaders are wondering if there's a way to impose a de facto carbon tax on countries like China, Russia, and India that refuse to accept binding caps—namely, by slapping a "carbon tariff" on all imports from countries without climate legislation. That's certainly one way for countries with cap-and-trade regimes in place to dissuade their companies from fleeing to dirtier locales. The tricky part, though, is that a carbon tariff would be tough to enforce—how do you know how much carbon actually went into the making of this or that product?—and might run afoul of the WTO. But that doesn't mean it's unworkable.

More: Via Grist, a new report from Canadian-based investment bank CBIC finds that if the United States started regulating carbon emissions and put in place a carbon tariff in response to Chinese inaction, that "could reverse the migration of certain manufacturing industries that have left North America for much cheaper labour markets in China." Interesting. I wonder what the free-traders would say about this. Of course, triggering a trade war might be a wee bit problematic.

--Bradford Plumer