When the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force in January 2019, the European Commission proudly announced that – for the first time ever – an FTA had ‘locked in’ Parties’ climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. To be more precise, the FTA’s short climate provision recognises ‘the urgent threat of climate change’, reaffirms Parties’ commitments to ‘effectively implement the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] and the Paris Agreement’, and vaguely commits them to cooperate on these matters.
Despite the fanfare, this ‘milestone’ does not significantly improve on references to climate change in previous EU FTAs. Housed in the FTA’s ‘Trade and Sustainable Development’ (TSD) Chapter, the clause is subject to a largely toothless dispute settlement mechanism – aimed at promoting dialogue and cooperation, rather than guaranteeing effective monitoring and compliance. Moreover, the Commission still regards one of the EU-Japan FTA’s principle achievements to be its potential for increasing EU pork and beef exports to a market over 8,000 kilometres away. Precisely how this achievement can be credibly reconciled with ‘the urgent threat of climate change’ is unlikely to ever be addressed – least of all by the FTA’s negotiators.
How could the EU better integrate the objectives of the Paris Agreement into its FTAs? The answer is not simple. Negotiated under the auspices of the UNFCCC, the 2015 climate deal mandates Parties to set voluntary targets on reducing emissions in their ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) – which are self-determined and non-binding. Japan is in fact on track to fulfil its 2030 NDC target; the problem is that this target is ‘quite inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s goals’. If the EU-Japan FTA is vague on what ‘effective implementation’ of the Paris Agreement looks like, so too is the Paris Agreement itself.
For more information: