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World Trade & Environment

Pfeil nach rechts October 11- 13, 2000
Why does World Trade need Environmental Regulation?

Pfeil nach rechts Program of the Conference
Pfeil nach rechts Participants to the Conference  pdf >

Foto Pressekonferenz mit Toepfer

Press Conference: (from left to right): Mark Halle, International Institute for Sustainable Development -IISD, Chatelaine, Schweiz, Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Ministerialdirigentin, Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit, Berlin, Klaus Töpfer, Andreas Dally, Evangelische Akademie Loccum, Bernard Kuiten, World Trade Organisation, Genf

Contribution of Klaus Töpfer to the Press Conference
OTON (4:08 min)  mp3-Audio-Datei >
Statement by Dr. Klaus Töpfer
Executive Director United Nations Environment Program, Nairobi, Kenia
Foto Klaus Toepfer

Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to address this audience today on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme. It is a great pleasure for UNEP to be a collaborating institution in organizing and conducting this workshop, which we think help bridging different viewpoints and perceptions on the trade and environment interface. I would like to thank the Loccum academy for having organized this important event, and assembled so many key actors from governments, international organisations and NGOs.

The issue of reconciling environment and trade policies is one of the most important challenges UNEP is currently addressing, and we particularly appreciate this opportunity for exchanging views on it with representatives of civil society. I am convinced that the role of NGOs in particular is very important in this debate, and will come back to this point later in my speech.

Governed by rules established under the GATT/WTO, world trade has increased enormously in volume these last fifty years. Total trade in 1997 was 14-times the level of 1950. This rapid acceleration of trade has raised concerns about the environmental impacts of increased industrial activity and rising levels of consumption that have accompanied globalisation and growth in economic activity more generally.

In order to respond to these concerns, assessments of the impacts of liberalised trade on the environment and sustainabledevelopment have to be undertaken at country level. Over the past decade, UNEP has developed practical environmental impact assessment (EIA) methodologies that have been successfully applied at local and national levels. These methodologies are now being adapted to focus on the effects of liberalisation and other trade-related policies, through further country projects, and through the development of a practical reference manual to aid such assessment.

Some general conclusions that can be drawn,from this UNEP work are that:

These conclusions demonstrate for me very clearly the need to undertake environmental assessments of trade agreements and trade policies. These studies will help governments in designing accompanying measures for trade liberalisation, as well more "trade-neutral" policies for the environment. That is policies, which minimise disruption of trade, while still effectively protecting the environment.

The integrated policies, both trade and environmental ones, that can be developed from focused assessment of the environmental and related social and economic effects, will amount to a regulation of world trade that will support sustainable development. Much of that framework is in place in trade and environment and institutions, at national, regional and international levels. But we do still urgently need "integrated" assessments of the effects of trade and trade policies reduce conflicts between policy. objectives, and complete this framework.

An important aspect of assessment, and the design of appropriate policy responses to it, is the  participation of civil society. The assessment studies conducted by UNEP have involved multi-stakeholder participation, and are guided by National Steering Committees comprised of government officials, the private sector and NG0s. This should guarantee that the issues and effects are accurately identified, reflect the interests of these different stakeholders, and that the national response strategies will be innovative and widely acceptable.

More generally, the role of civil society is to shape and steer public debate on these key issues, and to monitor the implementation of policy responses. I would like to recall here that UNEP grew out of the NGO environment movement in the late sixties and early seventies. NG0s continue to play a critical role in drawing the attention of government, business and the general public to enviffinmental degradation. They also help in ensuring more coordination and coherence between ministries at national level, and have provided ideas for innovative policies in support of sustainable development at all levels - national, regional and,international.

To take advantage of this innovation, and heed legitimate voices representing the public interest, international organisations must do their best to ensure that their decision-making process is transparent. Lack of transparency in decision-making processes has resulted in ineffective and even damaging policies in the past, and was also a factor in the failure of the WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle.

On their part NGOs also have an obligation to act responsibly in representing the public interest, and in providing constructive solutions to the policy integration challenges facing national governments and the international community. We need both multilateral trade rules such as those of the WTO, and environmental regulation of the global economy so that it is sustainable. These frameworks have to be better integrated, not just to coexist, but also to build the synergies and international cooperation necessary to achieve sustainable development. I will be relying on you to provide a rigorous critiqu e, and one that truly represents the views of your members or stakeholders, to help UNEP in its efforts to achieve this overarching goal.

Another key element in the framework necessary to achieve that goal is current set of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, the Montreal Protocol, and the' Basel, Rotterdam and Climate Change Conventions. Some these MEAs already employ trade restrictions, as part of a balanced package of policy measures, to achieve their environmental objectives. The role of trade in global environmental threats is increasing, as the proportion of global economic activity related to trade grows rapidly. In this context, trade is sometimes the direct cause of environmental damage, and has to be restricted in some way to avoid this damage. We need to ensure that such restrictions are not exploited for trade protectionist ends, but given that proviso, the negotiators of environmental agreements need retain the competence and mandate to both determine the objectives of MEAs and the means to achieve them.

UNEP is currently working in close collaboration with MEAs and the WTO to develop a process to reduce tensions and enhance synergies between these two bodies of international law. On 23rd October we will be holding a meeting in Geneva at which the secretariats of some of the MEAs and the WTO will make presentations on concrete examples of these tensions and synergies, before an audience of governments, other intergovernmental organisations and NGOs. I hope that the discussions in that room, triggered by the presentations, will enable us to begin to make progress on an issue first discussed in the WTO's Committed on Trade and Environment, back in 1994. I also hope that the outputs of that meeting will enable us to further build this process of enhancing understanding between the trade and environmental communities, and prepare the ground for effective integration of their international legal frameworks.

Finally, to summarise my response to the question posed by the organizers of this conference, I would like to conclude by emphasising that trade is not a goal in itself. It is merely one means to help achieve the objective of sustainable development. Trade is one particular form of economic activity. Like other economic activities, trade needs regulation and discipline in order to be fair and to avoid discrimination among countries. In this context, WTO is an.important organisation, which has succeeded in establishing rules and procedures.

But trade needs also rules and accompanying policies to minimise its associated environmental damage. Trade itself may harm directly the environment, for example when hazardous wastes or chemicals are traded. Damage to the environment can also. be less direct: as markets do not fully reflect the environmental costs of production, transport or disposal of goods (market failure). Unsustainable production methods and processes exist, and are often stimulated by increased and liberalised trade.

For all these reasons, there is a clear need for an environmental regulatory framework and other policy responses to unsustainable trade. WTO and the MEAs have to be coherent parts of this policy framework, which institutions like UNCTAD and UNEP will also have a key role in designing. Civil society needs to, continue to address and participate in the work of all these institutions, if we are to design an overall policy framework for sustainable trade, that is equitable, environmentally sound and makes the most optimal use of our planet's limited resources.

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