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Future UK trade agreements need to be compatible with its obligations on climate change, according to new report

Ahead of the UK hosting COP 26 later this year, the Trade Justice Movement and Queen Mary University of London are calling for the UK government to ensure that trade agreements help rather than hinder climate action.

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People with placards and posters on global strike for climate change.
People with placards and posters on global strike for climate change.

The policy briefing, How Trade Can Support Climate Action: A 2021 Agenda for the UK, co-authored by experts from Queen Mary and the Trade Justice Movement is to be launched at an online event on 13 July featuring an international panel including MPs, sets out how the UK is in a unique position to influence the international trade regime to support climate action. 

The Trade Justice Movement (TJM) is a UK coalition of nearly sixty civil society organisations, with millions of individual members, calling for trade rules that work for people and planet.

How Trade Can Support Climate Action: A 2021 Agenda for the UK, outlines how three important pillars of the UK’s approach to tackling climate change – decarbonising the economy, creating green jobs and industries and delivering more sustainable food and farming systems - could either be helped or hindered by trade rules. It also makes practical recommendations for the UK government. 

Practical recommendations 

The policy briefing sets out six recommendations:

  • An audit of the UK’s trade commitments should be carried out to identify their compatibility with climate obligations
  • To support more coherent policy making, the UK government should develop and publish a trade strategy, which must set out how its approach to new trade agreements and WTO climate commitments 
  • At COP26 the UK government should work with other like-minded countries to affirm the need for action to shape international trade rules in support of climate action
  • At the WTO the UK government should spearhead proposals for the reform of Subsidies Agreement
  • The UK government should join the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability Initiative and work to strengthen and extend it
  • The UK government should exit the Energy Charter Treaty, terminate Bilateral Investment Treaties and review all Free Trade Agreements to remove all ISDS clauses

Ruth Bergan, Senior Adviser of the Trade Justice Movement said: "The profound nature of what needs to change – how we live, work, travel, heat our homes, grow and consume food – demands unprecedented focus and coherence from governments. It in particular demands fresh thinking about the intersection between trade and climate change."

Professor Liam Campling, Professor of International Business and Development at Queen Mary said: "As the climate crisis looms, we must make creative use of trade policy tools to produce and consume in more environmentally sustainable and socially just ways. Trade policy should no longer hinder environmental improvements with its narrow focus on profitably and 'efficiency', instead it must be put at the service of people and planet."

International panel of experts

The high-level international panel of the online event will bring a wealth of experience looking at where the opportunities for innovation and progress lie in the months and years ahead given encouraging recent signals from the US and the WTO.

"2021 with the COP26 Summit and WTO Ministerial will be a pivotal year and the UK has a unique opportunity to provide the leadership needed to put trade rules in the service of climate action," added Ruth Bergan, Senior Adviser of the Trade Justice Movement.

Speakers of the event included Golriz Ghahraman MP, Green Party spokesperson on trade, New Zealand, Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent for The Guardian and Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise. Other panellists included Dr. Vera Songwe, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Shaun Spiers, Executive Director, Green Alliance and Gareth Thomas MP, Shadow Minister for International Trade.

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