Review of Environment, Energy and Economics - Re3 Greening the World Trade Organization


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Greening the World Trade Organization
by Raymond Saner
Environment - Book Reviews

The COP21 meeting in Paris concluded on a positive note, but mitigation and adaptation measures remain based on non-binding commitments. In "Greening the World Trade Organization", Raymond Saner suggests that the treaty power of the WTO could be used to generate the green investments and production needed to successfully implement climate change mitigation and adaptation at global level.

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Climate warming remains a serious threat to mankind despite the moment of hope after the successful conclusion of the COP21 last year in Paris. How to stop global warming going above +2 Celsius when in fact consumption and production patterns have not changed much and emission of GHG continues to increase in alarming speed and rate? Promises given at COP21 to implement mitigation and adaptation measures are based on non-binding proposals putting in doubt what the signature countries will really do about reducing their CO2 emissions. This is not to imply that countries cannot be trusted at all but looking back over the last 20 years, some improvements have occurred in regard to making some industrialized economies more environmental friendly. However, this has not been enough and climate warming continues unabatedly. As a way of alleviating doubts about governments’ intentions regarding reducing climates warming, some environmentalists take refuge in the belief that new technologies will be developed that can help generate the needed abatement of Green House Gases (GHG) and that such new technology could be developed, sold and used based on “business as usual” in regard to protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs). This book puts into question the above stated hopes and wishful thinking and instead suggests a radically different approach towards stopping life endangering climate warming.

The central nerve system of our globalized economies is trade and the rules of trade that govern trade flows. Goods and services are sold and bought based on conditions laid out in the WTO trade agreements. Our seemingly unstoppable consumer and production behavior would not be possible without the facilitation of the WTO trade rules. Globalization means organization of increasingly faster production along interwoven supply and value chains which are like perfectly working highways encouraging transportation of goods and services to be conducted at a faster and faster pace. The increasing efficiency of industrial and of industrialized agribusiness has resulted in dramatic increases of global wealth as a result of efficiency gains (robotization, mechanization, digitalization) but the effectiveness of ensuring  human survival is not secured on the contrary the more efficient globalization has become the more externalities are produced putting our survival in jeopardy.

An increasing number of environmentalists are calling for a carbon tax to stop the frantic increase of life endangering externalities. While a carbon tax is a first step towards stopping “business as usual”, implementing a carbon tax is not easy and would necessitate extraordinary efforts in measuring and labelling carbon content of goods and services which in view of globalization would mean that goods would have to be followed, checked and labeled from initial stage to semi-finished product stage to final product stage. While a carbon tax would result in much needed carbon transparency, consumption patterns might not change dramatically nor can it be expected that companies would be able to cope with considerable higher production costs especially companies who have not invested in green technology. Still, carbon tax is a laudable effort to bring about carbon truth but all of this does not mean that all actors will become more inclined to contribute to climate abating measures. In fact, some countries – especially the poor developing countries- are not part of the global value chains except that some of them provide access to their raw materials which the industrialized countries use as inputs for their production processes spread across global value chains.

Most of the poor developing countries are not benefitting from global trade but are in desperate need of affordable food and energy sources to feed their people and to provide the minimal comfort for their survival. Most of these countries do not have energy resources hence citizens continue to cut trees to generate minimal traditional forms of energy. The consequences of this are known – land erosion, water patterns ranging from desertification to inundation and violent weather patterns often leading to conflicts and migration.

It is therefore essential - for the benefit of wealthy and of poor nations - that countries who cannot afford current high technologies should be given the possibility to produce alternative- green energy on their own. The more alternative energies are made available to poor countries, the more likely they can contribute to mitigation and adaptation rather than having to wait for eventual handouts called capacity building, trade preferences and special loan arrangements- event though all of these gestures of support by the rich countries are well-intentioned and beneficial, they are not firmly committed. As we can observe today with the continued economic stagnation and the increasing costs of coping with mass migration and terrorism, developed countries have cut their aid to the poor developed countries and taken back some of the preferences extended to them previously.

Developing poor countries need a firm and committed acceptance by the wealthy countries that they will be given access to alternative green technology and related high tech innovations. This could be done if we reconsider some of the basic WTO rules which govern intellectual property rights, investment measures and trade and development preferential market access rules and regulations. This book describes what can be done within the WTO rules and how such a re-thinking could help developed and developing countries reach multiple win-win solutions. The key one being reduction of GHG in the industrial north and in the still agricultural south and equally importantly reduction of poverty which is not only unacceptable from a humanitarian perspective but  if not reduced - adds further depletion of forests who help capture CO2 leading us all towards life high GHG levels making eco-suicide a threatening possibility if “business as usual” is not stopped at the core reversing the trend towards frantic more trade and high externality centrifugalism resulting in more climate warming.

To set the theoretical frame for an alternative approach towards a climate reduction strategy, the book offers a re-consideration of what constitutes  public goods versus common resources conceptions of the economy including a discussion of the relevance of solidarity economy concepts for a global implementation of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies and introduces and discusses in detail climate reducing solutions  within the context of the WTO agreement such as Green TRIMS, Green TRIPS and Green Plurilaterals.  The three green WTO agreements proposed could generate the green investments and green production needed to successfully implement climate change mitigation and adaptation at global level and in the public interest.


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Carraro, C. (2016), “The Paris Agreement: key points and future prospects”, Carlo Carraro´s Blog, International Center of Climate Governance,  

Ostrom, E. (2010), “A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change”, Policy Research Working Paper 5095, Washington DC : World Bank

Utting, P. (2015), Social and Solidarity Economy: Beyond the Fringe,

UN-DESA, UNEP, UNCTAD (2012), “The Transition to a Green Economy: Benefits, Challenges and Risks from a Sustainable Development Perspective”, Report by a Panel of Experts to Second Preparatory Committee Meeting for United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development,,%20UNCTAD%20Transition%20GE.pdf



Greening the World Trade Organizatiion, FEEM Press, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Series, 2/2016









Raymond Saner, Professor, Basle University, Sciences Po (Paris), University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW)