Big Green Gaps: Our inability to tackle the messy issues at the interface of trade, development and the green economy

By Aaron Cosbey on November 21, 2012

This address to UNCTAD's 49th Trade and Development Board explores what Rio + 20 failed to do: move us toward international consensus on what is appropriate state behaviour in the pursuit of a green economy.

We have a panoply of unilateral measures employed to capture both environmental and industrial policy-type benefits—from renewable energy subsidies to aviation levies—but little consensus on their propriety. Some are clearly WTO-illegal, some are not, and others occupy a legal grey area. But more important than legality is the question: can they actually be effective both environmentally (in disseminating more green technology) and economically (in fostering mature new entrants and innovators in the green tech space)? And how do we balance any global environmental benefits against the impacts on trading partners? Such questions cannot be answered in the WTO, and are caustic to the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism. But we have no other suitable venues for discussion.

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IISD, 2012