The WTO is staging its first meeting of trade ministers in nearly five years and environmental issues are rocketing up the agenda. Image: EPA-EFE
GENEVA (AFP) – The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) boss insisted on Monday (June 13) that turning trade green was now urgent business, with the WTO putting climate change at the heart of its negotiations.
The WTO is staging its first meeting of trade ministers in nearly five years and environmental issues are rocketing up the agenda at the global trade body.
The European Union on Monday teamed up with Ecuador, Kenya and New Zealand to launch a new Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate, in the expectation that other countries will join the forum.
And diverse nations are already banding together in other groups to try and find mutual ways forward on topics such environmentally sustainable trade and tackling plastic pollution.
“Greening trade is urgent: climate change isn’t waiting,” WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said after attending the new coalition’s launch on day two of the WTO ministerial conference in Geneva.
EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the new group would try to tackle the climate crisis in a fair manner through trade policy.
“Trade has to be part of the solution. It is an engine of growth that can create new green jobs, reduce poverty and support the transition to climate-neutral economies,” he told the group’s launch.
Its ministers want to boost trade, and trade policies, in support of sustainable development and the 2015 Paris Agreement climate goals.
A first meeting is planned for July to work out the coalition’s next steps.
Climate change is not strictly within the WTO’s purview but the organisation – which is looking to revive its importance on the world stage – wants to make sustainable development and environmental protection among its core objectives.
“We need to profoundly change how we produce and consume things if we want our children to have a sustainable, peaceful and comfortable life in 50 years’ time,” said WTO deputy director-general Zhang Xiangchen.
The WTO traditionally reaches agreements by consensus, and some of its 164 members form groups on various issues to try and find ways forward, with climate change being no exception.
Several dozen WTO member countries pledged in late December to intensify discussions on plastic pollution, fossil fuel subsidies and environmentally sustainable trade, in a move hailed as historic by Mr Okonjo-Iweala.
Fossil fuel subsidies ‘insane’
Australia’s WTO ambassador George Mina, who co-chairs the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution, said 72 countries were now on board.
Mr Mina said countries had failed to tackle major environmental problems through the WTO, but in recent months, “we’ve seen a significant elevation in the profile, energy and focus” on such issues.
“Trade policy has to be a part of the solution on the environment and climate change response,” he said.
Co-chair Li Chenggang, China’s WTO ambassador, added: “Plastic is an important basic raw material but the leakage of plastic waste in the natural environment has brought environmental pollution and harm.”
At a press conference on fossil fuel subsidies, Iceland’s Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun R. Gylfadottir said renewable energy was “good business”, making economic and environmental sense.
“The fact that global subsidies for fossils fuels exceed those for renewable energy should come as a wake-up call for all of us,” she said.
Meanwhile New Zealand’s trade minister Damien O’Connor said subsidies at a time when countries needed to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels “seems somewhat contradictory, if not insane”.