Experts Call for Reframing Trade and Environment Narrative

 The Global Centre

The Global Governance Centre at the Graduate Institute Geneva, the Forum on Trade, Environment & the SDGs (TESS), and Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, have issued a report that argues in favor of advancing green trade through a forward-looking Environment and Trade 2.0 agenda.

Carolyn Deere Birkbeck, TESS, the Graduate Institute, wrote the paper. Titled, ‘Greening International Trade,’ the publication aims to serve as a “non-technical entry point” to enable environmental stakeholders to engage effectively in the environment-trade policy conversation and promote more sustainable trade. The paper identifies linkages between green trade and the SDGs, including SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land), and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals), discusses political prospects for green international trade, and outlines international policy opportunities in 2021.

The report calls for a viable green trade agenda that safeguards and strengthens ambitious environmental policies at the national and international levels. “Evidence-based, democratically sound, and transparent policymaking on trade, environment and sustainable development at the national level is the foundation for a coherent green trade strategy on the international stage,” Birkbeck writes.

The proposed Environment and Trade 2.0 agenda would also - 

  • Harness trade and trade policy to incentivise and drive green economic transformation;
  • Reduce negative environmental impacts of international trade and trade policies; 
  • Support environmentally sustainable, resilient, and fair international supply chains; 
  • Address sustainable development priorities of developing countries and support a just transition;
  • Strengthen alignment of national trade policy making with environmental goals and sustainable development priorities; and 
  • Support democratic, transparent and accountable processes of trade policy making.

The author proposes a “four-pronged strategy” to achieve this agenda. First, Birkbeck argues, strong environmental laws, regulations, institutions, and enforcement at the national level must be complemented by international environmental agreements that stipulate shared goals, targets, and obligations, including minimum standards and trade measures.

Second, the author urges governments to apply a strategic approach to measures and tariffs at country borders and to update trade rules and policies relevant to environmental action “behind the border” by strengthening environmental and sustainable development chapters in trade agreements and working to ensure the “core provisions and commitments defined in trade agreements support environmental goals and incentivise sustainable production and consumption.” Among other relevant aspects, the author stresses the importance of consultation with trading partners and “approaches that respond to the wider sustainable development priorities of developing countries.”

Third, Birkbeck highlights additional pathways to stronger intergovernmental cooperation on green trade that require attention, including green Aid for Trade, green trade finance, better monitoring, green trade classifications, and sustainability impact assessments. 

Finally, the report outlines opportunities presented by stakeholder initiatives to green trade and supply chains. It highlights challenges, and identifies a role for trade policy frameworks to support and complement such initiatives. The author notes that greening international trade necessitates “more consultation with a greater diversity of stakeholders and business interests to ensure that the trade policy agendas governments pursue are shaped by the core sustainable development priorities of their diverse constituents,” as opposed to being captured by “politically influential” industry groups.

The report was produced in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Trade, Development and Environment (TRADE) Hub, financed by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The publication is the output of a project on greening international trade, funded by WWF-UK. [Publication: Greening International Trade] [Graduate Institute Geneva News Release]

Source - IISD

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