Making the International Trade System Work for Climate Change

Research summary

The international research project "Making the International Trade System for Climate Change" examines possible synergy effects between the international trade and climate regime.
The focus is on how trade policy measures (WTO, free trade agreements, etc.) can support a more ambitious climate policy in the future. The project includes a first analysis of the impact of the Paris Climate Agreement on the relationship between international trade and climate policy.


The international trade system, including the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as regional and bilateral trade agreements, has often been criticised from a climate policy perspective. Trade rules are often perceived by some as a barrier to stronger climate ambition.

One of the most controversial issues is the idea that some countries could try to safeguard strong national climate policies by adjusting carbon prices at the border to protect competitiveness of their industries. However, some fear this may become a form of disguised protectionism.

Yet, as well as an obstacle, trade rules can also be viewed as something that could potentially help to achieve a transformation in climate policy. Examples of this include challenging environmentally and economically damaging fossil fuel subsidies, or by liberalising trade in environmental goods and services. Progress on these issues has been slow and pathways remain unclear. This is due partly to a lack of communication between trade and climate policy communities and uncertainty about impacts on developing countries.

The project was implemented in four work packages, organised around the following four key thematic areas:
1. Mapping climate-trade interactions
2. Designing border carbon adjustments (BCAs) for climate protection
3. Eliminating Fossil fuel subsidies through trade agreements
4. Making the international trading system work for climate change

More information

Research publication
Project information

Research info

Research title
Making the International Trade System Work for Climate Change

Research timeline
1.1.2016 - 1.5.2018

climate change Climate Strategies KR Foundation. Paris Agreement Regional and Bilateral Trade Agreements World Trade Organization


Finland, Germany, United States

University of Eastern Finland
School of Law
Joensuu, Finland

Funding instrument
Other, European Union Funding

Head of research
Harro van Asselt

Research team
Harro van Asselt, Kasturi Das, Susanne Droege, Michael Mehling

Institute of Management Technology, Delhi, India, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin, Germany, MIT, Cambridge, MA, United States

Contact information
Harro van Asselt
050 349 6934

Record last updated