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The multilateral trading system and climate change: introduction

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Note: This webpage is prepared by the Secretariat under its own responsibility and is intended only to provide a general explanation of the subject matter it addresses. It is in no way intended to provide legal guidance with respect to, or an authoritative legal interpretation of, the provisions of any WTO agreement. Moreover, nothing in this note affects, nor is intended to affect, WTO members' rights and obligations in any way.

See Lamy: “Doha could deliver double-win for environment and trade”, DG Pascal Lamy at the Informal Trade Ministers' Dialogue on Climate Change in Bali on 8-9 December 2007


Climate change is the biggest sustainable development challenge the international community has had to tackle to date. Measures to address climate change need to be fully compatible with the international community's wider ambitions for economic growth and human advancement. It is a challenge that transcends borders and requires solutions not only at national levels but at the international level as well.

The WTO is one part of the architecture of multilateral cooperation. It provides a framework of disciplines to facilitate global trade and serves as a forum to negotiate further trade openness. Freer trade is not an end in itself; it is tied to crucially important human values and welfare goals captured in the WTO's founding charter, the Marrakesh Agreement. Among these goals are raising standards of living, optimal use of the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, and protection and preservation of the environment.

The issue of climate change, per se, is not part of the WTO's ongoing work programme and there are no WTO rules specific to climate change. However, the WTO is relevant because climate change measures and policies intersect with international trade in a number of different ways.

First, trade openness can help efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, for example by promoting an efficient allocation of the world's resources (including natural resources), raising standards of living (and hence the demand for better environmental quality) and improving access to environmental goods and services.

Second, the WTO is relevant because national measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change may have an impact on international trade (as they may modify conditions of competition) and may be subject to WTO rules. The WTO “tool box” of rules can be relevant, therefore, to the examination of climate change measures. Moreover, WTO rules, as a whole, offer a framework for ensuring predictability, transparency and the fair implementation of such measures.

The impact of trade opening on climate change
WTO and the challenge of climate change
> Climate change and the potential relevance of WTO rules

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Durban Trade and Climate Change Symposium, 5-6 December, 2011

TAIT Conference — Climate Change, Trade and Competitiveness: Issues for the WTO, 16-18 June, 2010

Background note: Trade and environment in the WTO

> Speech: A consensual international accord on climate change is needed — Lamy