Trade policy must be urgently and collectively wielded to address the triad of environmental problems posed by climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, a high-level panel of speakers said at the fourth edition of Trade and Environment Week held on 12-16 June at WTO headquarters in Geneva. The week featured 18 sessions centred around the theme of collective approaches in addition to a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE).
High-level panel urges action on triple planetary crisis at Trade and Environment Week
“We must accept the potentially transformative power of trade and trade policies to tackle these three critical planetary concerns without further delay,” Ambassador José Valencia of Ecuador, chair of the CTE, said in his opening remarks for the event held on 13 June. He noted that trade policies can promote environmentally friendly technologies to drive down carbon emissions; improve waste management, including management of plastics waste; and champion the preservation of flora and fauna by preventing illegal wildlife trafficking and encouraging sustainable agriculture.
Yolanda Kakabadse, former Environment Minister of Ecuador, affirmed the increasing links between trade and environmental policy: “We all can confirm that integration of trade and environment is a process that will never end. It’s a process that grows with the innovation of technology, of new interpretations of traditional models. It’s also a result of the growing awareness we have of every process and what it means in terms of impact on the climate.”
Aik Hoe Lim, director of the WTO Trade and Environment division, noted the evolving discussions on environmental issues in the organization. “The old debate on trade and environment has been about trade-offs. We need to go beyond that and in our World Trade Report last year, we tried to look at trade and climate change from the perspective of amplifiers or multipliers. We explored how trade can support, accelerate, and create new opportunities in building a new global economy based on environmental sustainability.”
“The purpose of trade and environment week is to underscore the WTO’s contribution to facilitating the development of international trade practices that are environmentally friendly, sustainable and beneficial for all,” Mr. Lim said.
Elisa Tonda, chief of the United Nations Environment Programme’s resources and markets branch, emphasized how trade policy and the WTO can be enablers for environmental solutions in four areas: the elimination of environmentally harmful subsidies; the promotion of sustainable agri-food systems decoupled from deforestation; the establishment of a circular economy for reusing waste, including plastics; and the fostering of multilateral dialogue.
“In the words of UN Secretary General (António Guterres) at COP27 (climate conference) in Sharm el Sheik: ‘Humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish.’ Trade is ultimately based on deep cooperation. It is critically important to recognize that trade networks, and indeed our whole economy, is bounded by nature,” she said.
Focusing on the biodiversity loss crisis, Stewart Maginnis, Deputy-Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said: “There is a key role between the consumption and production of internationally traded commodities, and environmental loss.” To take action, governments must consider regulations to lower deforestation risk in the production and trade of goods, repurpose subsidies that encourage environmental destruction, and increase the collaboration between conservation communities and the WTO, he said.
Ambassador Marie Chantal Rwakazina of Rwanda, a pioneer in the regulation of plastic and electronic waste in Africa, provided insights on addressing the triple environmental crisis from the perspective of a least-developed country.
“My country established the Rwanda Green Fund since 2012. It is an environment and climate change investment fund with the mandate to invest in public and private projects with the potential to create transformative change in Rwanda; create an ecosystem to innovate, accelerate and provide growth capital to high impact green ventures; and to provide expert technical assistance to ensure the success of its investments,” Ambassador Rwakazina said. “Rwanda strives to balance economic development with environmental protection and climate resilience.”
Committee on Trade and Environment
Trade and Environment Week began with a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Environment on 12 June. Members considered proposals to reinvigorate the work of the Committee. The chair, summing up the exchange, said there is interest among members to hold thematic discussions and there are various ideas on the procedures for these discussions. The chair said he will convene an informal meeting to help members reach an understanding on a programme of thematic discussions.
Members also discussed possible contributions by the Committee to the 13th Ministerial Conference to be held in February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.
In addition, members were updated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and United Arab Emirates on the preparations for the upcoming COP28 UN Climate Change Conference to be held on 30 November to 12 December 2023. The UAE announced that, for the first time, the conference will highlight trade as a specific theme under the UAE COP28 Presidency Thematic Program.