The Corporate Greenhouse: Climate Change Policy in a Globalizing World

Schreuder, Yda
Zed Books, New York and London, 2009, ISBN 978 1 84277 957 6
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Anderson, Juliet

Transnational corporations (TNCs), or multinational corporations (MNCs), are not currently recognised in the debate on reducing global greenhouse gases (GHG), as Yda Schreuder sets out to illustrate. She challenges the concept of the nation state as being capable of reducing GHG, as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, arguing that pollution knows no borders. The TNCs hold the real global power, because they transcend national borders and wield huge political and economic influence with governments. The policy makers at the conference in Kyoto in 1997 failed to take account of the true nature of the global economy, and Schreuder calls for drastic and immediate action to rectify this, maintaining that the failure to fully address the TNCs' actions globally will only contribute to increasing GHG.
The book makes a pessimistic forecast: the world is not going to meet the targets set, and in fact it will fall drastically short of them. The increase in trade liberalisation and economic development witnessed over the past decade has only increased GHG emissions. The EU's ambitious attempts to go it alone are, however, an example of a major commitment to reduce emissions, through the emission-trading scheme. The North-South divide is heightened, because Annex I members have committed foreign direct investment (FDI) to certain Annex II countries only, such as India and China. Virtually none has gone to sub-Saharan or Latin American countries, due to their political instability or lack of exploitable resources. Given the level of FDI by TNCs, the author raises the valid question of who is directly responsible for these emissions. The role of the USA is also challenged, in that it has constantly shirked any ratification of the protocol.
The main strength of this book is its argument that the world is becoming ever more intrinsically interlinked, especially in the context of TNCs and FDI. Schreuder presents a clear exposition of the relationship between the corporate globalising world and the environment. This is a refreshing view, which takes the emission debate beyond arguments about Annex I and Annex II emission targets. Simply viewing GHG emission as a problem confined within a national boundary will not solve the problem. TNCs need to be accountable too, and they should refrain from using FDI to avoid GHG targets. However, the author acknowledges that developing countries need to grow and cannot be expected to adhere to the same restrictive boundaries as developed countries, but argues that to allow TNCs to invest in high-energy projects is to defeat the object. The depth of the author's evaluation of the EU emissions scheme also brings to light the difficulty of the problem. The complexity of each of these mechanisms and the sheer number of committees involved are quite staggering.
The multiplicity of committees, mechanisms, and structures produces a huge number of acronyms. So much so that the reader cannot possibly know them all, and it takes time to look back to check their full meaning, so a glossary would have been useful. Although the sustainability of the current process is called into question, not enough in-depth solutions are presented. Outlining where it is all going wrong will not bring us any closer to a solution for all. However, although the author concedes that the Kyoto policy is not working and that drastic steps are needed to reform the current framework, the very specific and demanding work that would be entailed is not fully explored.
The overall view is gloomy, in that there are precious few examples of success stories arising from the Protocol. The initiatives that have been implemented have taken a very long time, and time is not on our side. Globalisation and capitalism continue to dominate economics worldwide, and the reduction of GHG seems to be still very far down the agenda. Yda Schreuder proposes to include TNCs in discussions and to make them accountable for GHG emissions worldwide. However, until there are clear international accounting processes to track them, the task is near impossible. Moreover, if the USA does not come on board, especially since it is the world's largest polluter, it seems that any reductions made will be simply counteracted.
The book certainly makes a contribution to this field with its synthesis of capitalism, globalisation, and the environment, showing how they are all intrinsically linked. Up-to-date emissions data enable the reader to view the huge difficulties that climate-change policy now faces. The author achieves her objective of addressing the issues relating to climate-change policy and global neo-liberal policies. The forces of globalisation and free trade have allowed TNCs to expand rapidly. This has encouraged developing countries to generate a fossil-fuel-based economy driven by the increase in investment and production of the TNCs. With no restrictions on the emissions of Annex II countries, TNCs are free to invest in these economies because they are not confined to national boundaries. Can any form of reduction be achieved without increased corporate responsibility? On reading this book it would be difficult to argue that this seems likely and achievable in the current climate-policy context.