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Experts gather at ODI to reinvent sustainable global trade

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Leading trade, climate change, and finance experts convened today for a landmark event organised by the Remaking Trade Project in collaboration with E3G, ODI and the European Climate Foundation. Their mission:  address the urgent need to restructure global trade to combat climate change and ensure a just transition to a clean energy future.

The one-day workshop – “Restructuring the International Trade System for Climate Change Progress and a Sustainable Future” – aimed to reconsider and reshape outdated trade policies and transform the global trade system into a powerful force for environmental sustainability and equitable development.

The event also marked the London launch of the Villars Framework for a Sustainable Trade System – an ambitious roadmap to align trade reform with the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals through coordinated cross-cutting and sectoral action. Participants focused on grounding recommendations of the Villars Framework and trade system reform within the UK’s specific political context and identifying actionable steps.

Key discussions centred on:

  • Reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) to align with a net-zero GHG emissions future. This included exploring the practical implementation of the Villars Framework, which outlines concrete steps for the WTO to embrace sustainability goals.

  • Designing fair and effective Border Adjustment Mechanisms that incentivise decarbonisation while ensuring fairness for developing countries.

  • Rethinking WTO subsidy rules and industrial policies to support a just transition towards a green economy.

  • Unlocking the potential of trade finance to accelerate climate change action and support developing countries.

Sarah Colenbrander, Director of ODI’s Climate and Sustainability Programme, said:

“The existing system fuels environmental degradation and risks deepening global inequalities. Incremental change is no longer enough. We need trade, finance, and climate communities to work together to create a system that benefits people and the planet.”

Professor Dan Esty, Hillhouse Professor at Yale Law School and Yale School of the Environment and co-lead of the Remaking Trade Project that launched the Villars Framework, emphasised the need for concrete action. He said:

“Bold trade reforms are urgently needed to safeguard the environment and ensure equitable development. The Villars Framework provides a crucial blueprint for achieving these necessary reforms.”

Jan Yves Remy, Director of the Shridath Ramphal Centre for Trade at the University of the West Indies, and co-lead of the Remaking Trade Project, said:

“The Villars Framework is grounded in a people-centred reform process that is inclusive and representative. It takes seriously the need to ensure that the just transition delivers for developing countries.”

Nick Mabey, Founding Director and Co-CEO of E3G, said:

“Rapid and fundamental reforms are needed to drive the unprecedented changes needed to achieve climate safety and global prosperity for all. Today’s discussion on the role that trade can play in driving these changes is vital”

The Rt Hon. Michael Mainelli, The Lord Mayor of London, said:

“The City of London is committed to leadership as both a global financial hub and growing green finance market, London stands ready to partner internationally on catalysing sustainable investment flows through aligned trade and economic policy.”

Matthew Langdon, Trade Associate with the European Climate Foundation said:

“This event brings together the best minds to rethink why we trade, and how the powerful levers of trade policy can better contribute to our net zero ambitions and imperative.”

Jodie Keane, Senior Research Fellow at ODI said:

“The UK is one of the largest investors in Africa. There are huge opportunities in the transition towards renewable energy and green supply chains. The UK needs to continue to explore where it can go further in existing trade and investment partnerships.”

The workshop concluded with a clear call for action, urging policymakers, businesses, and civil society to work together to build momentum on reforming the global trade system. “This is a defining moment,” emphasised a participant. “Our ability to create a sustainable and just future depends on our collective action now.”

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