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Trade and Environment

The trade and environment agenda is vast, with policy-makers increasingly looking to trade policy as a way to help tackle problems such as deforestation, marine plastic waste, biodiversity loss, and overexploitation of marine resources. Also crucial is ensuring that trade policy does not exacerbate environmental challenges further, including climate change.

IISD’s work on trade and environment has a long history, dating back to the earliest years of the organization. Our approach seeks to foster connections between the trade and environment communities, generate new ideas, and support policy-makers as they design environmentally friendly trade policies. Along with our work with policy-makers, we engage directly with academics, civil society, the private sector, and practitioners, given that these important challenges often require multistakeholder solutions.

We actively contribute to discussions among WTO members on trade and environment issues, both during the annual WTO Trade and Environment Week and throughout the year. This includes input to negotiating processes, as well as non-negotiating work, such as how to incorporate sustainability considerations into aid directed at trade-related infrastructure.

Outside of Geneva, we regularly analyze the environmental provisions of regional trade agreements, looking to unpack what they mean from both legal and practical perspectives and advise policy-makers accordingly. We developed a sustainability toolkit for trade negotiators with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) designed to help trade and investment agreement negotiators as they seek to make new accords line up with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have also developed with UNEP a joint Trade and Green Economy handbook, which was written for policy-makers, practitioners, and the wider public and has been updated on several occasions to reflect new developments.

As part of the Geneva Environment Network, we play an active role in the environmental policy community, bringing a trade lens to discussions on plastic waste pollution and how to ensure coherence between multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and the trading system. Our work on sustainability standards under the State of Sustainability Initiatives has examined how the lessons from these voluntary schemes can inform trade and public procurement policy.

We are also working with climate policy-makers as they develop their national adaptation plans (NAPs) so they can see which trade policy options can support these efforts, given the networks we have fostered at the country level as the secretariat for the NAP Global Network.

Our reporting on the SDG Knowledge Hub, our analytical commentaries in our flagship trade magazine, the Trade and Sustainability Review, and our joint webinar series with the University of Geneva’s Faculty of Law are spaces we have developed for exploring new ideas, developing an ever-wider community of practice, and encouraging a richer conversation on these vital issues.

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