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The world revolves around trade. It’s always been the case – from the first micro barter system to the highly complex and regulated buying and selling of goods, services and commodities of today.

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 28/10/2020

Now in 2020, we are witnessing the result of a pandemic grinding trade to a trickle. The economic downturn and job losses face many, but there is also change on the horizon. And change is good, not so?

According to the World Trade Organisation’s deputy director-general, Alan Wolff, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed environmental issues up the local, national, regional and global policy agenda. He states that the crisis calls for a collective response on trade that fosters sustainability, inclusiveness and resilience.

In my book, that’s a great stance and one that is long overdue. Governments have the power to use trade measures to protect the environment and provide support to clean, green processes and practices.

A word of caution, though. No single solution to our current environmental challenges is perfect.

As an example, the footprint of a utility-scale solar photovoltaic power plant is considerable. This footprint includes the mining of the rare earths and raw materials, manufacturing of the modules, and transportation of the final product from the factory to the plant’s site.

You can include the construction activities in preparing the site and the ultimate disposal of the modules once they reach their lifespan. There are, of course, the benefits of using solar power in the energy mix, but if we intend to drive change to the next level, we must consider the cons. 

The same can be said of electric vehicles. What I’d like to stress here is that the benefits of the solutions should not outweigh the adverse results. It’s these hazards that will continue to affect the environment for decades. We have a responsibility to find the answers to these threats now and not let the progressive change blind us.

Until next week.

PS – find out more about the Short Answers to Big Questions on the WTO and the Environment