For the second time in January, trade experts and environmentalists met together at UN Headquarters in New York to plan for more effective collaboration at Rio+20 in June.
“We are building a bridge between the two communities of trade and environment, which are usually separated in negotiations,” Eugenia Nunez, Economic Affairs Officer at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), tells MediaGlobal. “It is indeed crucial that in Rio, discussions on necessary adjustments towards a green economy have a trade language.”
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, will be held this 20-22 June in Brazil for renewing political commitments toward sustainable development and a green economy. Along with other organizations, UNCTAD’s focus is on finding a balance between trade and the environment, while also highlighting specific issues of concern for developing countries.
“A green economy is already slowly taking place and offers numerous market opportunities,” says Nunez. “The challenge is how to allow and encourage developing countries to benefit from these opportunities.”
In any economic transaction, there can be losers and winners. Negotiators at Rio should ensure that the poor and marginalized are not made even worse off from a shift towards a green economy. “Some countries are now pursuing sustainable development objectives by raising trade barriers, for example by imposing specific import requirements that are sometimes very expensive and hard to implement for poorer countries,” says Nunez.
An essential trading opportunity offered by stronger focus on sustainable development is the production and export of environmentally friendly technologies. Marianne Schaper, in charge of the Rio+20 Secretariat at UN DESA, the UN Department on Economic and Social Affairs, highlighted some ideas and initiatives to be considered at Rio.
“Most developing countries will be followers in technological development and diffusion,” tells Schaper. “For this reason, it is crucial to accelerate and facilitate the spread of green technologies worldwide. That can only be done through a revision of international intellectual property rights (IPRs).”
As currently defined in the WTO’s Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPS) agreement, that regulates international property rights, IPRs focus on promoting technological innovation. But this strict protection of property rights on clean technologies may simultaneously hamper their diffusion and affordable access in developing countries that do not have the capacities to produce them.
“Another focus should be on strengthening local capacity building and R&D in developing countries,” explains Schaper. “This is necessary to avoid a paternalistic model of owners so that, eventually, transfers of technologies will go in two-way flows.” These objectives can also be promoted through strengthened cooperation in R&D for accelerating innovation, or through the facilitation of a network of technology centers, as highlighted during the conference.
This preparatory meeting on the trade dimensions at Rio+20 was a way to share and brainstorm on the different ideas and initiatives to be further reviewed at the conference in June. “We do not yet have international consensus on the appropriate ways to pursue a green economy,” concluded Nunez. “But time is running very fast, and it is our duty to ensure that trade and environment are effectively addressed together at Rio for the benefit of the developing world.”