Trade Can Catalyze Climate Action | Brunswick Group

Trade Can Catalyze Climate Action

Trade and climate talks need to come together, argues Brunswick’s Kate Fall.

Many of those who lead the charge to put climate change front and foremost of global politics are among the first to critique globalization, seeing the two as competing goals. But they may be mistaken—dangerously so.

The world knows no boundaries when it comes to huge global issues like climate change but also other critical issues such as the decline in biodiversity, cybercrime, the threat of pandemics and the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs. It’s a sobering list. All this requires global political will. In other words, if we’re going to solve these problems, we need the world to come together as an international community, not fragment into competing economic blocs.

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Illustration: Brian Stauffer

Hence the power of trade. Relationships driven by trade promote peace, prosperity and trust, all of which helps underpin international collaboration. The view that there is a trade-off between economic growth through trade and progress on climate change is becoming outdated: for example, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership contains provisions on carbon emissions and cooperation on energy efficiency. But we need to do more to bring the two together.

The frustration, however, is that trade and climate change talks operate on parallel tracks.

For example, the delegates to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change annual meetings tend to come from foreign ministries and departments dealing with energy and environment; whereas trade negotiations are led by ministries of finance, trade, infrastructure, development and technology.

Finding ways to bring together these parallel conversations may help to spur on global action on climate change. For examples, tariffs deployed against those countries that are not reducing emissions; or a border-adjustment tax based on the carbon content of imported merchandise; or other measures like reduction of tariffs on “green goods,” such as clean energy technologies. And, perhaps most significantly of all, the linkages between trade and fossil fuels subsidies could be re-examined.

We have seen how the global trade system can aid international cooperation on issues such as poverty alleviation and stimulating growth in developing economies. Now, a conversation needs to begin about how to integrate the economics of trade and development with the economics of climate change. The more that businesses step up to the plate, as drivers of innovation and change, the more we can harness their creativity as part of the solution to climate change.


Kate Fall is a Brunswick Partner. She is a member of the House of Lords and a former Deputy Chief of Staff to UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

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