climate change

An environmental read on the five candidates for the WTO Director-General slot

A British-based press publication on climate change released a story today looking at the position on climate change of the five candidates being considered in the second round of consultations at the WTO to become the next WTO Director-General. The publication, Climate House News says this about themselves, “Climate Home News is an independent news site specialising in the international politics of the climate crisis. Our London-based editorial team coordinates deep reporting from around the world on the political, economic, social and natural impacts of climate change. Our coverage of UN climate talks is essential reading.”

Today’s article can be found here: Climate Home News, 29 September 2020, African green reformer tipped to win UN trade leadership race, https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/09/29/african-green-reformer-tipped-win-un-trade-leadership-race/.

While crediting H.E. Yoo Myung-hee of the Republic of Korea and the Rt Hon Dr. Liam Fox MP of the United Kingdom for speaking out on the need for fisheries subsidies reform, the article singles out H.E. Amina C. Mohamed of Kenya and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria as the two candidates who appear committed to raise the profile of climate change within the WTO if selected as the Director-General. The fifth candidate, H.E. Mohammad Moziad Al-Tuwaijri of Saudi Arabia, was noted as having made no statements on climate change.

“Both women used their written candidate statements to call for environmental reform of the WTO’s trade rules, while their three opponents from Korea, the UK and Saudi Arabia, have said little about climate change.”

“Mohamed, who has held cabinet roles including foreign affairs in the Kenyan government since 2013, said the economic recovery must ‘take account’ of issues like climate change. The WTO should be reformed to ‘support our shared environmental objectives’ and encourage diffusion of clean technologies, she said.”

“Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister for Nigeria, said that ‘the WTO appears paralysed at a time when its rule book would greatly benefit from an update to 21st century issues such as ecommerce and the digital economy, the green and circular economies’. She said she wants to reach ‘optimal complementarity between trade and the environment’.”

The article spends a fair amount of space on carbon pricing as an important initiative and notes Minister Mohamed’s comments that “the WTO could replicate carbon pricing initiatives like the EU’s ‘on a grander scale.”

Whether increasing the role of the WTO in addressing climate change is an issue of concern to many WTO Members, it certainly is to some and should be to many. Because trade and the environment is not a prominent area of ongoing WTO negotiations (other than fisheries subsidies), it is not surprising that all of the candidates seeking the Director-General position have not spoken extensively on the issue. Thus, one cannot necessarily draw the conclusions that the article suggests about three of the candidates. Being a member-driven organization, a candidate to become the next Director-General can not be faulted for focusing on the issues of stated concern by Members. Under the current WTO structure, it is not clear what influence a Director-General can have on subjects that Members will focus on.

Nonetheless, ensuring sustainable development (including how trade can help achieve global needs to address climate change) is important to businesses, workers, consumers, NGOs, and the global population. It can and should be a factor that Members of the WTO consider in who gets selected as the next Director-General — i.e., commitment to sustainable development and passion for making trade a positive contributor to solving climate change. More importantly, it must be a factor that Members consider in deciding on areas of negotiation and reform of the WTO in the months ahead.