A Climate Retrofit for UK Trade

We need to embed ambitious climate goals in a post-Brexit trade policy.
This research is published in collaboration with the following organisations:
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A Climate Retrofit for UK Trade

We need to embed ambitious climate goals in a post-Brexit trade policy.
Executive Summary

The pandemic has exacerbated existing gender, class and racial inequities and sent an unprecedented shockwave through the global economy with devastating consequences for levels of trade. But prior to this crisis, international trade faced a multiplicity of problems against a backdrop of sluggish recovery in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and growing concerns about the distributional consequences of global value chains. As states attempt to contend with the immediate health challenges from the spread of the virus and the economic and social damage from the resulting crisis, the graver emergency of climate disaster is approaching a point of no return, exacerbated by an unbalanced trade system that prioritises corporate interests over climate and economic justice.

The UK’s departure from the European Union could be a moment to fundamentally reassess our approach to trade and investment, both for our own economy and the role we play in shaping economic opportunities in other countries. The danger remains, however, that the UK Government will exploit the uncertainty of Brexit to double-down on some of the worst aspects of the status quo: an accelerated race-to-the-bottom in support of a ‘competitive’ business environment; prioritising short term gains over a state-led just transition; and eroding our environmental and climate safeguards at a time when they need to be strengthened.

Having gone from being part of the world’s largest single market to negotiating trade deals alone amid a global economic crisis, we may find ourselves at the receiving end of the types of extractive trade deals we have inflicted on others, damaging our already underwhelming performance in achieving a green and just transition. In this new landscape, it is imperative that we strive to build something better, not only for the interests of our own communities and workers, but also for lower and middle income countries who have been strong-armed into extractive deals for too long.

The scale of transformation required to bring about a Green New Deal for trade is immense and the political realities of this will be exceptionally challenging, particularly with regard to steering major polluters and corporate and financial hubs away from their current strategy. This report does not set out to offer quick and easy solutions to transform trade for the better in the aftermath of the pandemic, or to account for all of the complexities of the trade and climate connection; rather, it suggests a series of interrelated measures that the UK could initiate to challenge corporate power, advance climate justice, tackle inequities, and build a more reparative approach to trade:

[.num-list][.num-list-num]1[.num-list-num][.num-list-text]An accelerated national commitment to net zero before 2035 that explicitly orients trade policy as a tool to deliver a rapidly decarbonised, green economy and a more equal society, both in the UK and around the world.[.num-list-text][.num-list]

[.num-list][.num-list-num]2[.num-list-num][.num-list-text]Immediately seeking temporary continuity agreements for our current trading arrangements and pausing existing negotiations to secure the policy space for the UK and trading partners to respond to the pandemic and mount a comprehensive Green New Deal. Expanding policy space now will mean advocating for a Peace Clause for pandemic-related emergency measures and a targeted Climate Waiver for climate action.[.num-list-text][.num-list]

[.num-list][.num-list-num]3[.num-list-num][.num-list-text]A climate retrofit of UK trade policy in service to a Green New Deal, the principles of which should be:[.num-list-text][.num-list]

  1. Greening our trading ambitions to accelerate climate action: ensuring any ‘green trade’ measures have a development and redistributive mechanism and ending fossil fuel financing
  2. Safeguarding and enhancing public services: protecting public services against trade liberalisation and using public procurement as a key tool to build resilient supply chains
  3. Reining in corporate power to advance climate justice: ending corporate lawsuits against public interest policies, supporting exploitation-free supply chains with extraterritorial access to justice, and challenging intellectual property rules which protect corporate monopolies
  4. Transforming multilateral trade and investment architecture for a global Green New Deal: expanding policy space for governments in the Global South to define and build their own green and just transitions, securing new sources of finance, and enabling green technology transfers
  5. Leading with a green industrial strategy to guide trade and investment: decarbonising our economic activities, changing consumption to reduce emissions, scaling green jobs and industries across the UK, and rooting out intersectional inequalities with stronger social protections and rights.

An ambitious Green New Deal for trade would link our domestic agenda with transforming international economic governance in pursuit of a just global transition. This will mean a principled foundation for our own policy approach combined with unprecedented multilateral cooperation to deliver a post-carbon future of prosperity and security for all. Given the scale of the challenge and the time limitations of avoiding irreversible climate breakdown, small tweaks to a trading model accelerating climate breakdown will not suffice. A systemic crisis requires a systemic response.

Full Text
A Climate Retrofit for UK Trade