WTO’s Lamy embraces Gaia


For those who don’t think trade is in trouble and is being used as the big stick to solve all global problems, the World Trade Organization’s Director-General, Pascal Lamy, in a speech February 5, gave obeisance to the “Gaia theory” as the approach to incorporate environmental issues into trade negotiation.

“Gaia” — which means “mother earth” in greek — is traversing a difficult phase: a zone of turbulence. It was as early as 1979 when James Lovelock published his famous work — “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth” — that we were warned that living matter is not passive, and that the Earth responds to provocation. We learned that the Earth’s air, oceans and land surfaces react in the face of threats to their very existence. They fight to defend themselves. Today, as we face environmental challenges of an unprecedented magnitude, like we do with climate change, there is little doubt that Gaia will indeed react, and that humankind may suffer the consequences.

As part of the Doha Round of negotiations, the WTO’s Trade and Environment Committee is crafting a chapter that discusses the relationship between trade and multilateral environmental agreements that have trade implications. Lamy is pushing for WTO members to accept that as part of the WTO’s rules-based system. And he points to “sound energy policy” and the “internalization of externalities” as topics requiring serious attention.

The world must forge ahead with these negotiations as fast as it possibly can. Not because the negotiations are going to save the world’s environment. But because they are the very modest start that the international community has agreed to make to address environmental challenges through the prism of trade. A failure of these negotiations would strengthen the hand of all those who argue that economic growth should proceed unchecked. That economic growth is supreme and need not take account of the environment. Trade, and indeed the WTO, must be made to deliver sustainable development. They are starting to.

This modest first step that governments have taken, would allow them in future to become bolder, addressing issues that have so far been left behind. The proper pricing of resources, the internationalization of externalities, and sound energy policy, are but some of the topics requiring much more serious attention.