UK ministers told to ensure Cop26 progress is not undermined by trade ahead of key WTO meeting

Thu 25 Nov 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Environmental groups, charities and unions have written to Cop26 president Alok Sharma and international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to urge them to pressure the WTO to stop countries challenging each other’s climate policies.

In a letter to the ministers, seen by the Independent, they have urged the UK government to use its leverage as host of Cop26 to encourage the WTO to adopt a “climate waiver” at its Ministerial Conference in Geneva next week.

Blocking change

The group wants to ensure trade rules do not “slow down, constrict, raise the cost of or otherwise interfere with climate action”, the letter said.

“International trade rules are standing in the way of action on climate change,” the letter to Sharma and Trevelyan said.

‘Not binding’

The letter was signed by 12 groups including the Trade Justice Movement, Friends of the Earth, Traidcraft, Global Justice Now and Unison.

Trade Justice Movement adviser Ruth Bergan said: “The problem with the environment initiatives at the WTO is that most of them are not binding, and currently appear to be mostly talks about setting up talks about cooperation and information exchange.”

Legal action

WTO rules and bilateral treaties can deter countries from introducing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of fear of costly legal action by companies which stand to lose out.

The group highlights several examples such as the case of the Netherlands being sued for €2bn by energy company RWE over its phasing out of coal-fired power stations.

The EU has previously been challenged at the WTO by China over its renewable energy schemes.

Climate goals

According to the Irish Examiner, some regions are already using trade to support their climate goals.

The European Commission last week proposed a law to stop imports of goods ranging from soy to palm oil and furniture if their production destroys forests vital to absorbing carbon dioxide.

The EU also plans to tax the carbon contained in imports.                                

Complex supply chains

However, critics say that complex global supply chains make it hard to identify the extent of deforestation caused by a product.

One role for the WTO could be to combat “greenwashing” by defining commonly agreed standards for environmental claims.

It could also create tools for assessing the carbon footprint of the finished products that emerge from cross-border supply chains and help to establish an accurate global price for carbon.