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Global Governance Centre

Trade, Environment and the SDGs

Since 2019, the Global Governance Centre has hosted a project to foster research and dialogue on a forward-looking agenda on international trade and environment, led by Senior Researcher, Carolyn Deere Birkbeck.

Project activities have included both academic and policy-relevant research papers, expert commentaries, convening of informal dialogue among government delegations on trade and environment, expert roundtables involving stakeholders and researchers, strategic advice to governments and co-hosting or participation in public events to highlight recent research and policy developments. 

This work was supported through a combination of in-kind and financial support from the Chatham House Hoffmann Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy, WWF-UK, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the UNEP Environment and Trade Hub, and the Graduate Institute’s Global Governance Centre, with advice from a diverse set of actors.

In 2020, this project focused primarily on supporting the launch of Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability at the WTO and of the Informal Dialogue on Plastic Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade. Work on this project was also closely linked to work under another Global Governance Centre project, Transforming the Global Plastics Economy, supported by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS), which includes a prominent work stream on trade and plastic pollution.

Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs

Building on this work, the Graduate Institute and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) are launching a new joint initiative, the Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs (TESS) in 2021.

TESS will work to align trade and trade policy with the urgent need for global action on the intersecting crises of climate, nature and pollution, informed by the need for progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Its vision is for a global green deal that advances green economic transformation and a just transition, especially for developing countries. 

To advance this mission, TESS aims to catalyse inclusive, evidence-based, and action-oriented dialogue on trade and sustainability at the multilateral level, drawing on perspectives and expertise of a diversity of international stakeholders, with a focus on engaging developing countries and building capacities of their stakeholders. 

A partnership of the Graduate Institute and UNEP, TESS will be housed at the Graduate Institute’s Geneva Trade Platform. At the Graduate Institute, TESS was incubated by the Global Governance Centre and the Geneva Trade Platform, with support of the Centre for Trade and Economic Integration (CTEI). The incubation phase benefited from the financial support of the UNEP Environment and Trade Hub, SECO, WWF-UK and Chatham House, and input from a diversity of colleagues from international organizations, including UNCTAD, the WTO, and the International Trade Centre, government delegations, stakeholder organizations and the research community. TESS will be financed through a combination of government and philanthropic support, and supported by an Advisory Network comprised of a regional diversity of stakeholders and experts. A separate website will be launched in June 2021.


Timeline: September 2019 - December 2023.


Funding organisation(s):

Logo of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Swiss GovernmentWWF Logo


Project supported by:

Logo of the TESS




Deere Birkbeck, C. (2021) Greening International Trade: Pathways Forward, Forum on Trade, Environment and the SDGs, Geneva.

Deere Birkbeck, C. (2020), “Strengthening international cooperation to tackle plastic pollution: Options for the WTO,” Global Governance Brief 2020/1, Global Governance Centre, Geneva.

Charveriat, C. and C. Deere Birkbeck (2021) Greening Trade for a Global, Green, and Just Recovery, Global Governance Centre, Hoffman Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy, and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).

Deere Birkbeck, C. (2019) A Ministerial Statement on Environment and Trade at the 2020 WTO Ministerial Conference, Global Governance Brief and Global Economic Governance Centre, No. 1, November.

Deere Birkbeck, C., Hale, T., and E. Jones (2020) To Advance Trade and Climate Goals, ‘Global Britain’ Must Link Them, Expert Comment, Chatham House, 19 March 2020.

Deere Birkbeck, C. and J. Denton (2020), “We need better alignment between climate and trade. Here's a roadmap,” World Economic Forum, 14 January.  

Deere Birkbeck, C. (2020) "Here’s how the WTO can help address plastics pollution", World Economic Forum, Davos Comments, January 2021.

Deere Birkbeck, C. (2019) Environment and Trade 2.0, Hoffmann Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy, Hoffmann Centre, Chatham House: London.