Signing the proverbial deal with the devil

TPP will extinguish national sovereignty, ability to combat climate change

Graphic by Kelly Campbell

Much was made of Prime Minister Trudeau’s support, during the COP21 Paris accords, of setting a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than two degrees. At the time, there was no indication of how this extremely ambitious goal was to be met – since meeting it would require the immediate cessation of almost all new greenhouse gas production and fossil fuel extraction, with a complete phase-out occurring by 2030. It would require the abandonment of economic business as usual, and the full resources of our society to accomplish.

The announcement that this same prime minister will sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries, lays bare the emptiness of that hope. Far more than merely the free trade accord it is being presented as, the TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will with one stroke extinguish this nation’s (and all other signatory nations’) sovereignty, thus rendering impossible the actions necessary to stopping runaway climate change.


The ugly details

The ISDS provisions contained in the deal allow multinational corporations to sue governments over not only lost profits, but lost expected profits. The panels to hear these suits will consist of corporate lawyers, not judges. Their verdicts cannot be appealed. The lawyers who sit on these panels will be drawn from the same stock that negotiated the deal, and who are employed by the corporations which will be the sole entities to profit by it.

Any health or environmental regulation or socially motivated law that cuts into expected profits could be affected. Compelled to pay compensation for laws meant to protect social and ecological health, the wealth of the governments will be siphoned off by the same corporations seeking to profit from the destruction of the well-being of their people. These regulations apply only to multinational corporations, however: Canadian-based outfits will bear the double-burden of increased compliance and increased competition. Essentially they will be punished for complying with just laws.

Think about that for a moment: if that does not apply to all laws, it certainly applies to all laws that seek to create a just, sustainable society. It certainly applies to any laws that could limit, or end, the production of greenhouse gases. Any conceivable action to combat climate change undertaken by governments will negatively affect corporate profits.

The barriers to large-scale adoption of fracking – an extremely polluting method of extracting oil and natural gas which can cause water to become flammable and undrinkable and has been linked to causing earthquakes – will be removed. It is profitable to extract oil and sell it, for corporations that do not pay for the ecological damage they do. Limiting how dirtily they can extract oil would cut into their profits; corporations such as Petronas could sue municipalities, provinces, states, and nations that ban it. The same holds true for any method of extracting resources.

Corporations will become increasingly wealthy and powerful, at the expense of increasingly weak and no-longer-sovereign states. The notion that in this situation any serious action aimed at curtailing climate change can succeed is naive.

The climate will become increasingly less hospitable and predictable. Extreme weather will become more common and deadly. Desertification will follow droughts. The temperature will continue to rise – because any action that might make it do anything else would cut into the profits of multinational corporations. Eventually, the ecology that sustains us will simply collapse, unable any longer to absorb the raw results of human greed.

If by some miracle (only divine intervention or dumb luck seems like a way out at this point), we manage to avoid a complete social collapse and possible extinction, all that remains will be the science-fiction dystopia created by the TPP: one where power and wealth belong to those most willing to destroy life to achieve it.


The ugly truth

If you are unaware of the content of the TPP, it’s not really your fault. The document was negotiated at a level of secrecy not employed by people with good intentions. Its authors consisted of corporate lawyers and representatives of large multinationals – the kind of people, in short, who have no interest in the common good, and every interest in increasing corporate profits at the expense everyone else. Think of people with the morality of Martin Shkreli (the man who hiked the price of a life-saving drug 5,000 per cent), but smart enough to work their evil in the shadows.

In the United States, the members of congress who will vote on the agreement can only consult a copy kept under lock and key, and on the condition that they make no notes. Not ominous at all. The public at large in other countries have only had access to the text since Nov. 5 of last year. In New Zealand, where the deal is to be signed, police are undergoing riot training in anticipation of attendant protests. The contents of the text make clear why such secrecy was employed: the nations that sign this document will literally surrender their national sovereignty – they will no longer have final say on the validity of the laws they pass.

International Trade Minister Cynthia Freeland said in an “Open Letter to Canadians” that “signing does not equal ratifying. Only a majority vote in our Parliament can allow the agreement to take force. Signing is simply a technical step in the process.” Which is technically true, in the same way that it is technically true that your heart ceasing to beat is only one step in the process of dying.

There is a two-year limit on ratification, and the Liberals hold a majority in the House of Commons. Even if they allow MPs to vote freely on ratification (which they have no reason to do), it seems unlikely that enough would vote against the deal to stop it – and if they did, the Conservatives have always been strongly in support of it. The NDP are against the deal, but that will not save us. The TPP will be signed, and then it will be ratified.

It is an ugly future. One that might well make anyone who loves life more than profit cry out with Job: “If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave!”