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  • Five "Gs":Lessons from World Trade for Governing Global Climate Change
  • William Antholis (bio)

Reversing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the world's $60 trillion economy will be among the most complex international governance challenges ever—rivaling the forty-year effort to dramatically reduce tariffs and establish a rules-based trading system. Given that nearly fifteen years have passed since the completion of the last global trade pact, it is easy to forget that the World Trade Organization (WTO) stands tall among the great successes of global governance, precisely because it was so difficult to accomplish. A counterpart twin tower—a global system to address climate change—can mimic the trade regime's most successful governance principles, and learn from its structural weaknesses. Perhaps more important, as this volume's theme suggests, the two regimes need to work diligently to avoid colliding with one another. Indeed, it would be both unfortunate and ironic if a global climate regime only could succeed at the expense of the global trade regime—or vice versa.

What lessons should the climate regime learn from the trade regime? It may be helpful to break the issue down into five core questions for any attempt to govern: Who governs? What is the structure of the basic governing agreement? Where is it "binding"? When can we expect the agreement to take effect? How does it bring new nations in? For each question, preliminary answers can be found in what we might think of as the five "Gs" that should govern climate change. By looking to the lessons from the WTO, I try to make the case for a climate regime that:

  • - starts with a group of major emitters, which together

  • - forge a general agreement to tackle the issue, one that

  • - gears up nations' domestic action and that

  • - organizes itself around a generational goal that

  • - allows for the graduation of developing countries into full commitments. [End Page 121]

In a few of these areas, such an approach can provide a road map to resolving potential conflicts between the two regimes.

Who Governs? The Right Group of Nations, Matched to the Challenge

International regimes need to be designed to their purposes. Are they debating forums? Are they negotiated agreements that govern in particular fields? Trade and climate change have both benefited considerably from both kinds of organizations. This chapter assumes that concerned nations are moving toward a governing regime for GHG emissions, and that they need mechanisms equipped to address that challenge.

Since the formation of the United Nations system, two bodies have existed along side one another on the issue of global trade, one for discourse, the other for governance. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has largely functioned as a forum for assessing the twin goals and accomplishments of trade and development. Alongside it, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its successor, the WTO, have been the governing body for global trade. Though some might find it odd to point to the WTO as a successful model of international governance (especially given recent difficulties in completing the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations), it is easy to forget how significant its contributions have been to both international cooperation and to economic growth over the last sixty years.1 The GATT/WTO system began as both a smaller (in terms of membership) and more ambitious (in terms of governance) world body than UNCTAD when a group of the right countries decided to work together.

Lesson learned: Size matters. When it comes to global governance, it was and is easier to get things done with a smaller number of the right countries. The GATT process was managed by the biggest and most technically competent trade players—the so-called Quad of the United States, Japan, Canada, and Europe. Occasionally, when formal negotiations bogged down, the Group of Seven (and later, the Group of Eight) would weigh in to give the talks a boost, such as in 1978 and 2001, when the leaders themselves helped spur breakthroughs [End Page 122] leading, respectively, to the close of the Tokyo Round and the launch of the Doha Round.

As the WTO's membership grew in size...


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pp. 121-138
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2012
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