DISCURSOS — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Workshop on Trade and Climate Change, co-sponsored by Korea, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Chinese Taipei

Ambassador Choi,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I am pleased to join you today.

At the outset, let me congratulate the co-sponsors for this initiative. You have brought together an impressive group of experts for this discussion.

I welcome your interest in this important issue.

Climate change is a global phenomenon. However, its negative impacts are felt differently across countries. And, as usual, it is the poorest countries that face the greatest challenges.

So there is real urgency here.

I think an open and informed dialogue on trade and climate change can provide a number of opportunities to WTO members.

I would like to highlight three of these today.

First, this dialogue can help inform members' views on the role that the WTO can play in supporting climate action.

Across the membership, there are different positions on how the WTO should be involved in this discussion, and what solutions it can bring to the table. However, this does not mean that environmental issues are absent from our debates. On the contrary. 

With the Committee on Trade and Environment, the WTO has a forum dedicated to promoting a better understanding of the relationship between trade and the environment.

Members have used this forum quite successfully in recent years to discuss many issues at the intersection of trade and climate change.

For example, issues discussed include:

  • the work of the UNFCCC,
  • national experiences with climate-related measures, and
  • the removal of environmentally harmful distortions, including in the energy and forestry sectors.

I think there is a lot to build on here to develop a shared and pragmatic view of how the trading system can best support climate action.

So that's the first opportunity I wanted to highlight.

The second is the fact that this debate can help spark innovative and climate-friendly solutions.

Joint action on trade and climate can open the way for new sources of economic growth and job creation that benefit the environment as well.

Take renewable energy for example.

For the second year in a row, more than half the new power generation capacity added worldwide was in renewables. Global investment in this sector exceeded 300 billion dollars per year on average over the past 2 years.

And this means new jobs.

Globally, over 8 million people work in renewable energy. In some countries, new renewable energy jobs are outstripping those created in the oil and gas industries.

These are important developments. And trade has played an important role here, whether by reducing trade costs, stimulating investment in key sectors of the climate economy, or fostering innovation.

And I think trade policy can do more.

Removing barriers to trade could add further momentum to the clean energy transformation unfolding right before us. And some important work is being done.

A group of WTO members has been working towards reaching an Environmental Goods Agreement.

Of course it isn't easy — but that reflects how important this deal would be.

The agreement aims to eliminate duties on key environmental goods, such as those needed in the fight against climate change. It includes, for example:

  • solar, wind and geothermal energy equipment,
  • insulation materials, and
  • the key components of smart grids.

Ministers and senior officials involved in this deal met in Geneva last December. It was a constructive meeting, but clearly there is still work to do.

In this way, and others, I think the trading system can make a positive and meaningful contribution towards tackling environmental degradation.

This brings me to my third and final point.

A debate like this one offers the opportunity for an open and informed dialogue that can ensure that trade and climate policies go hand in hand.

A growing number of countries are putting in place measures to combat and adapt to climate change, often as part of pledges under the Paris Agreement.

A recent study shows that there are currently more than 1,200 climate change laws in place. In 1997 there were just 60.

And WTO data show that climate measures are often closely related to trade. Roughly one-third of environmental measures notified to the WTO are related to climate action.

Moreover, around half of the Trade Policy Reviews conducted in recent years include at least one reference to climate change.

I think all this points to the growing policy links between trade and climate change. We should seize this opportunity to ensure that trade and climate change policies can reinforce and strengthen each other.

So, to conclude, I believe that the WTO has an important role to play here.

But, for the WTO to play its full part, members must continue to deepen their dialogue, identify where the challenges lie, what current practices are, and of course — what the WTO can bring to the table.

Initiatives like this are a very important part of these efforts.

I hope you will keep building on this dialogue and ensure that we can make our contribution in the fight against climate change.

As I said at the outset — there is real urgency here. And it is the poorest that stand to lose the most.

So thank you for listening.  I wish you a very productive discussion.

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