According to studies by the World Trade Organization (WTO), an apple produced in Germany is not always more climate-friendly than an apple from New Zealand that has been transported over 18,000 kilometers. “There is a big misunderstanding,” says German WTO chief economist Ralph Ossa to the German Press Agency.

“Most people think that a local product is necessarily good for the environment.” This is not always true if the total CO2 emissions of a product were taken into account. “Apples from New Zealand in winter are greener than apples from Germany because the German apples have been in cold storage and that uses energy,” says Ossa.

Transportation emissions account for a relatively small portion of a product’s total emissions, Ossa said. For food, this is an average of ten percent. However, there are big differences in production emissions. “If a vegetable or fruit is in season in another country and not in ours, and it either grows in a heated greenhouse or has been in cold storage, then the production emissions of locally produced goods are often higher than in the other country,” says Ossa. “So it’s not true at all that importing is always bad.”

Global carbon tax

World trade can play a role in reducing climate-damaging emissions, says Ossa. To achieve this, we don’t have to act less, we have to act differently. “Trade can be an important impact enhancer of climate policy,” he says. This works, for example, through a global CO2 price. This means a levy on emissions caused during production. According to a WTO simulation with a global CO2 tax of around 90 euros per ton of CO2, emissions would decrease. More than a third of the savings would come from importing products from countries that can produce them particularly green.

So far, CO2 prices only exist regionally, for example in Europe. According to the federal government’s plans, the CO2 price in Germany is to rise every year, reaching 45 euros per ton in 2024. With a global tax, brown products – those that have high emissions – would be more expensive and less traded, while green products would be cheaper, says Ossa. This would have the effect of making construction with wood cheaper than with concrete. It would also change world trade: “Countries would increasingly specialize in products in which they can produce relatively low emissions,” says Ossa.

The WTO, with 164 member countries, wants to promote sustainable world trade with low tariffs and uniform rules for the benefit of all. She advocates for a global CO2 price.