The United Nations' approach to trade, the environment and sustainable development

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The complex and transboundary nature of current environmental problems has turned them into global issues that intricately linkecology, economics and politics. The sectoral and fragmented development of institutions to address these global problems has been unable to keep pace with the increasing interdependence of the economy and ecology. There is an incongruity between the problems which arise from the interconnected nature of the global ecosystem, and their solutions, which are sought in the framework of a geopolitical system based on the sovereign State. Global environmental problems warrant global solutions on a multilateral basis. Thus, any national effort to address these issues without a support network of international institutional instruments and principles is likely to be ineffective. Furthermore, any individual organization or actor is further prevented from responding to environmental needs because of the overriding North-South dynamics of the problem. The United Nations (hereinafter "UN") is exceptionally well positioned for addressing these issues. The UN is the only multilateral organization that possesses universal membership and is global in its scope. It can better help governments in their environmental protection initiatives because of its multidisciplinary capabilities and broad experience involving all stakeholders in the trade and environment regimes. The UN continually strives to achieve international cooperation and support for capacity building in trade, environment and development in the South. The UN, through its many specialized agencies, also carries out work and reporting on the development of a framework to integrate trade and environmental policies by taking into account the special needs of developing countries. In addition, the UN process has offered developing countries, despite their weaker bargaining power, an opportunity to participate effectively in negotiations in which industrialized nations have had to make considerable concessions. Part II of this article will provide a brief summary of the emergence of environmental concerns in the UN, and the ways in which members sought to link these concerns with international trade issues. Part III will outline the role of the first UN organization to deal explicitly with trade and environment issues, the UN Conference on the Human Environment. One of the key outcomes of this conference, the UN Environment Program will be discussed in Part IV. The contribution of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development to trade and environment issues will be discussed in Part V. Part VI will look at key outcomes of this conference, including Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration, and Part VII will provide a critique of both of these documents. Finally, Part VII will analyze some important issues for developing countries in the UN's approach to trade and the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-639
Number of pages33
JournalILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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