Sustainable Development Agendas

Scientific innovation and improved international relations among countries have led to an increase in international trade. World’s population increase has posed a challenge to individual governments to meet its population demand of good and service with the scarce resources within their borders; this has necessitated the growth in international trade. As international trade continues to grow, it has had negative impact on the environment; the link between environmental damage and international trade is complex, however policy makers at international level has developed some mechanisms to curb the effects if the trade on the environment. The creation of World Bank, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and World Trade Organization (WTO) were aimed to control international trade. The success of the international bodies has been limited with some environmental negotiations and conventions failing to take effect. Some of international failed negations are Doha round of talks in 2008, Copenhagen environmental talks in 2010 and challenges of implementation faced by Kyoto protocol. International trade is sustainable through the forces of absolute and comparative advantage; it has lead to an improved efficiency in use of available resource in different parts of the world. The lack of a centralized control of environmental issues has resulted to continued environmental damage. This paper evaluates issues, competing concepts and priorities involved in making trade and environment mutually supportive for achieving the objective of sustainable development; it will focus on international conventions and round of talks and how they aimed to address the issue.

The concept of Sustainable development

Nature has given human beings resources that should be exploited for the benefits of the society. How well human kind exploit these resources determine whether the world will be able to feed its population and affects developments of current and future generations. Sustainable development is an exploitation pattern that aims at meeting current human needs, without limiting the level at which future generations will meet theirs. Some of the resources that nature has provided to human beings include climate, minerals, fertile soils, water, animals, air, wind and atmosphere among others. When exploiting resources in a sustainable manner, it involves use of technology and taking measures to ensure that efficiency is upheld.


From 5th to 16th June 1972, there was a convention held by United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, at Stockholm, where they discussed the need to protect the environment; in the convention, which was in a time that the effects of globalization were slowly being felt, it was felt that the world has a responsibility of protecting the environment. In the talks, countries and governments were challenged to take the role of protecting their environments and be the guide and pioneers of environmental policies in their countries.

The convention came up with twenty-six operating principles that needed to be adhered to in the efforts of protecting the environment; in all the operating principles, the convention was trying to create a close link between human needs, industrialization, international trade and globalization. The role of the governments, states and nations was established in the conventions, for example principle 25 says “States shall ensure that international organizations play a coordinated, efficient and dynamic role for the protection and improvement of the environment”, (United Nations Environment Programme).

Doha round of talks

In its efforts to facilitate international trade, the WTO in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, started negotiations aimed at removing/reducing trade barriers. It target agricultural and industrial manufactured goods and services. The negotiations did not take place in Doha only but, there were other negotiations in different parts of the world as follows, in 2003 Cancún, Mexico, in 2005 Hong Kong and Paris, in 2007 in Potsdam, Germany 2007, there were also other related negotiations in Geneva, in 2004, 2006, and 2008.The negotiations are referred to as Doha negotiations. In the negotiations, the need for a sustainable development with the increased free movement of goods and services was talked in length; Para 6 of the Doha Declaration, states that the round of talks aims to improve trade among countries not forgetting the needs of future generation in fulfilling its developmental needs. The paragraph partly states, “We strongly reaffirm our commitment to the objective of sustainable development, as stated in the Preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement” (Vicente). Further in the paragraph, the talks applauded and aimed to affirm the other international negotiations, conventions, agreements, organizations that had the goal of protecting the environment; some of the noted negotiation were World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002, the efforts of UNEP in collaboration with WTO among other conventions.

Doha’s Paragraphs 31 to 33 were primarily on Trade and Environment, the paragraphs aimed at encouraging countries to eliminate tariff and non tariff barriers to environmentally friendly imports. The paragraphs emphasized the need to respect multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) , as international trade expands.

Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992

Chapter of the negotiations was aimed at offering an operating framework that nations could work on, the convention was of the opinion that in order for the world to attain increased trade and protect the environment, then new global partnership that was concerned on the need to conserve, preserve and maintain the environment has to be developed. The convention applauded the increased interdependence of the community of nations but advised that the same way they have integrated to solve different problems that had prevailed in the universe is the same way they are expected to join efforts to attain sustainable development. To attain sustainable development, the protocol called for development of supportive international economic environment and determined policies at the national level, the convention observed that the interaction that countries of the world should have should be foster a climate of genuine cooperation and solidarity.

Among other objectives of the convention, the issue of sustainable development took central stage, adoption of technology and fair trading were among the established moves different governments has to take. Objective 2.9 d states “To promote and support policies, domestic and international, that make economic growth and environmental protection mutually supportive” (Report Of The United Nations Conference On Environment And Development), the above objective emphasizes, the need for intentional trade that is beneficial to all parties however it should be operated in a way that does not pollute the environment.

European Commission

European Union has reacted to the increasing environmental damage and has enacted policies that can lead to sustainable development; under the frameworks of European Commission environment chapter, the union of nation’s aims at integrates environmental concerns into its external relations and trade policies. To attain the Noble goal of integrating environmental issues with global trade, the commission has created policies that will link liberalized trade rules and multilateral environmental agreements; the commission aims at looking into developmental issues and the effects that have on the environment.

The work of the commission started on when EU General Affairs Council of April 2001 empowered the council to take an environmental audit on the impact that trade between the EU nations and the world have on the environment. The commission has the following objectives to attain:

  • To evaluate the environmental impact of trade and trade policies
  • To evaluate the potential effects of environmental measures on trade flows
  • To evaluate use of trade measures to achieve environmental policy aims

On 21st of March 2002, General Affairs Council adopted the integration strategy, the strategy aimed to integrate economic, social, environmental and financial aspects in international trade and to ensure that the world traded fairly amongst its self and attained sustainable development.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and The Regional and International Networking Group article on sustainable development

An article by IISD and ICTSD, sustainable development suggested that the current world environmental damage has resulted from human activities and actions, the article observed that international trade has had an effect on the environment. According to the article, the diversity that different countries have on the resources have enhanced global trade, however over exploitation and overuse of these natural sources have contributed to environmental damage. The article was of the opinion that governments and international bodies are playing a vital role of developing policies and mechanism to conserve the environment. Environment is of global concern where collaboration of all parties involved is required to conserve and restore the environment. Conserving the environment does not take forced policies but they are policies that the population can live with effectively.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretariat, 1994

The secretariats applauded the effects that globalization has had in offering basic human needs to people of diverse nations. However, the secretariats where of the view that globalization and international trade are affecting development in a negative way. Chapter 2 of Agenda 21 promoted the need to attain sustainable development goals despite having an increased trade among different countries. They were of the view that sustainable developed can be attained with international collaboration and plans targeting environmental issues. Chapter 2 of Agenda 21 (9), states, “The avoidance of negative effects of environmental policies on trade and development, in particular of developing countries, and of the use of environmental measures as a disguised form of protectionism. An open, equitable, secure, non-discriminatory and predictable multilateral trading system” (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretariat), The statement reinforced by others support the move of sustainable development by different countries. The secretariats were of the view that to avoid environmental damage, does not mean to stop producing but it means to produce in an effective and reliable manner, considering current generation needs and future generation needs.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Approach

United States, Canada, and Mexico signed an agreement of free trade among them in 1993, however the agreement was hampered by the effect that free trade was likely to have on the environment. In the wake of the agreement, another agreement to look into environmental issues despite the free trade policy was established and named North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The two agreements aimed at increasing trade among them at the same time looking into the needs of the environment. When developing the agreement, the countries were of the view that to conserve the environment is their duty; they suggested environmentally friendly production method like the use of clean energy, use of disposable bags and recycling/reuse of wastes.

Challenges facing Developing countries in sustainable developing

Developing countries are having a challenge in their efforts to produce and remain successful in conservation the environment; this is because of the rate of population growth rate experienced in the countries that is high and the rate of technology. Intellectual property rights is another challenge that is facing the countries, some people have the ownership of large masses of land that have natural environments, when these properties; the private developers are exploiting the resources with less consideration of other people. On the other hand, the developed countries are pressurizing the developing country to exploit their resources further since they are offering markets to raw materials abundant in the countries. As the countries strive to develop, and cope with their counterparts, they end up overexploiting their resources10.


Although international trade has benefited the world in different areas, it has resulted to environmental degradation and damage. Sustainable development agendas can only be attained if the world recognizes it is the responsibility of all human kind at individual, corporate, government and international level to ensure that natural resources are well utilised to meet current human need and not limit the enjoyment of future generation needs.


Adil Najam, Mark, Halle Ricardo, and Meléndez-Ortiz. 2007. TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT: A RESOURCE BOOK. Web.

Baker, Susan.2006. Sustainable development. London: Routledge European Commission. 2010. Environment and Trade and External Relations. Web.

Global Development and Environment Inst and Jonathan, Harris. Trade and the environment. Web.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2001. Sustainable development: critical issues. OECD Publishing.


United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretariat. 1994. TRADE AND ENVIRONMENT and UNCED FOLLOW-UP ACTIVITIES IN UNCTAD. Web.

United Nations Environment Programme.1972. Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Web.

Vicente, Paolo. 2001. Trade and Environment in the Doha Ministerial Declaration: Looking at Paragraphs 6 and 31 to 33 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. Web.

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