UNEP, WTO Paper Considers How Trade Can Promote Prosperity, Resilience
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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A joint publication by the World Trade Organization and UN Environment Programme identifies how governments can work to ensure that trade and a healthy environment are mutually reinforcing.

The report notes that trade can help bridge differences in resource endowments across countries, relieving scarcities in some locations while allowing more efficient resource allocation globally.

2 October 2018: A joint publication by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) identifies how governments can work to ensure that trade and a healthy environment are mutually reinforcing. Titled, ‘Making Trade Work for the Environment, Prosperity and Resilience,’ the report “connects the dots” between sustainability, prosperity and resilience, identifies opportunities for cooperation on trade and the environment, and highlights where and how the WTO and UNEP are working in partnership.

Launched at a dialogue hosted during the WTO Public Forum by UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim and WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, the publication “makes the case that opening up trade in environmental goods and services is a triple win for the economy, the environment and development.” The report is the first output of a joint initiative by the two organizations on trade and the environment.

The publication notes that trade can help bridge differences in resource endowments across countries, relieving scarcities in some locations while allowing more efficient resource allocation globally. Further, trade of environmental goods and services – which spans the production of renewable energy, reduction of waste generation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and improvement of resource efficiency – can help drive down costs or replace outdated technologies. However, the paper cautions that weather events, intensified by climate change, have disrupted production and transport networks, and pose risks to trade and prosperity.

In order to capture “win-win” opportunities, environmental considerations must feature in trade policy making.

Connecting to SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (zero hunger) and 12 (responsible consumption and production), the paper highlights that open, fair and transparent trade can alleviate poverty among smallholder farmers while strengthening incentives to produce in an environmentally sustainable manner.

In addition to recognizing governments’ adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the report recognizes companies – from small start-ups to multi-national corporations (MNCs) – that have taken action to drive efficiency throughout their value chains. It also highlights growing consumer awareness as bringing the economy, trade and environmental sustainability closer together, citing the rapid expansion of markets for sustainable food and beverages, energy-efficient appliances and eco-tourism.

The publication calls for more rapid progress to be made on mitigating trade’s environmental impacts. It notes that, in order to capture “win-win” opportunities, environmental considerations must feature in trade policy making. Examples, the report highlights, include the elimination of trade barriers on environmental goods and their components. It points to the solar panel industry as one that “creates more than twice the number of jobs per unit of electricity generation than coal or natural gas” while supporting a healthy environment.

Mechanisms to ensure that trade works for sustainability and prosperity, the report notes, include programmes such as Aid for Trade, acting in partnership across sectors and stakeholder groups, and raising awareness to shift mindsets and consumption patterns. [Publication: Making Trade Work for the Environment, Prosperity and Resilience] [Publication Landing Page] [UNEP Press Release]

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