Intersections between climate change law and the World Trade Organization

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The need to balance economic growth and sustainable development remains a shared goal within the international community. One of the ways to achieve this balance is to promote a green economy, whereby states can continue to pursue economic growth whilst reducing the environmental and social footprint originating from their economic activities. Providing financial incentives for cleaner energy production, promoting green technology and introducing a cost for carbon pollution are some of the policy solutions that states have implemented to combat climate change.

The international trade law framework is now confronted with emerging challenges where paradigms of free trade conflict with climate change policies. The World Trade Organization (WTO), the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) and other multilateral trade agreements including the Subsidies and Counter Measures (SCM), Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreements, play a central role in maintaining a system of open international trade to ensure that states do not unjustifiably discriminate between foreign and locally produced goods and services.

Herein lie a range of problems: what if climate change policy possesses trade distorting impacts that undermine the system of open international trade? How have specific climate change measures been treated by the WTO and dispute resolution bodies? Can the WTO distinguish between legitimate climate change policies against policies which unjustifiably restrict trade in foreign goods? And importantly, how has the WTO responded to fundamental shifts in what tomorrow’s economy should look like, namely, from trade liberalisation to sustainable development?

With the rise of climate change as the leading environmental issue of the twenty-first century, there has been a significant shift in attention towards limiting anthropogenic global warming and restraining the levels of carbon dioxide emitted from economic activity. This chapter will examine the above questions and the role of the WTO to explore the intersection between climate change policy and international trade law. By doing so, this chapter will explore how climate change action can operationalize concepts that are inherent in both international trade and environmental law, namely, common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and special and differentiated treatment (SBT) to illustrate that the two, distinct legal regimes share the same path towards achieving sustainable development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch handbook on transnational environmental law
EditorsVeerle Heyvaert, Leslie-Anne Duvic-Paoli
Place of PublicationCheltenham, UK ; Northampton, USA
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781788119634
ISBN (Print)9781788119627
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Climate change
  • International Trade
  • WTO
  • Transnational Environmental Law


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