Trade is the missing element in climate change response, MC11 hears

20 December 2017

Developing countries are the most vulnerable and the least prepared for the changing climate – but economic opportunities exist alongside the threats

Trade is the missing element in the policies that countries are devising to reduce greenhouse gases and bolster preparedness for the economic effects of climate change, UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said last week at event during the World Trade Organization’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

But better data and analysis is required to make the link between trade policies and emissions-curbing plans, which under the globally agreed Paris Agreement are known as nationally determined contributions, Ms. Durant said.

Panellists at the event, hosted by UNCTAD and The Commonwealth, discussed response measures in specific groups of countries with special vulnerabilities to climate change such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS), sub-Saharan African countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).


As well as speakers from UNCTAD and The Commonwealth secretariat, representatives from Saint Lucia, Zambia, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Overseas Development Institute added their voices to the discussion.

Carbon-constrained world

Ms. Durant said that climate change would impose changes in the shape of trade as we know it. These embrace “what is produced and how it is produced; what is traded and how it is traded”.

“This will include not only physical changes in terms of the location of industries and services sectors, but changes to the rules and regulations that have yet to be fully developed, and will impact on trade relationships in a future carbon-constrained world,” she said.

Poorer and more isolated small islands – from Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean to Vanuatu in the Pacific – are more exposed than continental nations to the impacts of climate alterations like rising sea levels and extreme storms, Ms. Durant said.

“Their ports and airports are lifelines for external trade, food and energy imports, and tourism and leisure,” she said, adding that these circumstances required investment in a solid “oceans economy” that was responsive to climate change shocks.

Opportunities on the horizon

Most members of The Commonwealth were likewise susceptible, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Josephine Ojiambo said, adding that they often have the least capacity to diversify and adapt.

Also, climatic events could hold back the 47 LDCs, from Afghanistan to Zambia, which aspire to move out of the category, speakers said. A more fine-tuned “graduation” process may be necessary to avoid over-exposure to climate-change risks.

However, trade and investment opportunities in the transition to a low carbon economy were appearing on the horizon for developing countries of all categories, speakers said.

Such opportunities include diversification into green goods using cleaner, more efficient production technologies, new services, and building capacity to implement climate-related voluntary sustainability standards.

In addition, speakers said that best practices and experiences should be shared among countries to help successfully manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change. ​