The Global Stocktake has revealed that the world is falling far short of the greenhouse gas emissions cuts required to avoid the worst effects of climate change. States have to deliver greater emissions reductions. Then how do we move from current greenhouse gas emissions trajectories toward net-zero emissions by mid-century?

Trade can offer such a policy tool – indeed, one that has been largely under-appreciated.  Indeed, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), holding the Presidency of COP28, has declared the first ever thematic Trade Day in the 30-year history of the climate change summit meetings. The Trade House Pavilion held many events on the intersection between international trade and climate change. At COP28, two projects explored how to reconfigure international trade toward a sustainable future.

First, the Remaking Global Trade for a Sustainable Future Project – representing a world-wide network of academics and other researchers – has generated a WTO reform agenda under the banner of the Villars Framework for a Sustainable Trade System. At COP28, I had luckily attended its organized event “Remaking the Global Trade System for a Sustainable Future: From COP28 to MC13” in the Trade House. Through the talk afterwards, I learned that how the founding partners of this project set up a team, slimmed their agenda, elevated this project to international forum, built international consensus, and reform international trade agreements.

Second, the Making the Trade System Work for Climate 2.0 Project also shared its report in the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate Pavilion. It explores three emerging models of cooperation relating to Border Carbon Adjustments (BCAs), namely the G7 Climate Club, the transatlantic talks on a Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminium (GASSA), and the Inclusive Forum on Carbon Mitigation Approaches (IFCMA) launched by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and assesses the prospects for each model.

Compared with the second project, the first project is more systematic, strategic, action-oriented. Indeed, these two projects of reconfiguring international trade aligning with climate change demonstrate two approaches to international law-making. This first is the build-up approach: one group of scholars/policy makers tries to illustrate the need to incorporate new principles/content into existing international agreement; and the second is regional experimental approach: regional state parties would like to make agreement among their small circles and hope their reginal agreement could accepted globally in the future. In the face of the most serious challenge—climate change, these two approaches are ongoing at the same time.

International trade could help to ensure that green technologies, projects, and infrastructure get disseminated across the world at speed and scale. Only with the disseminated green technologies, projects and infrastructure, could the oil-dependent economies transition away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energies.