Trade in Environmentally Sound Technologies - the Perspective of Developing Countries


In light of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, environmentally sound technologies increasingly gain the attention of the global community due to the important role they can play in the fight against climate change and in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Environmentally sound technologies, often also referred to as “clean technologies”, are a subset of environmental goods, which are defined as goods that directly contribute to environmental protection and climate change mitigation. 

To promote the diffusion and to scale up the uptake of environmentally sound technologies, the international regulatory and political framework for trade and investment in such technologies needs to be decisively reshaped. An essential step is to remove barriers to trade in certain goods (e.g. wind turbines, solar panels, carbon dioxide scrubbers, recycling machinery, etc.) of particular importance for environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation, as has been discussed in the negotiations of the Environmental Goods Agreement, for example. At the same time, countries are also promoting trade and investment in environmentally sound technologies through regional and bilateral trade agreements.

What is apparent is that not many developing countries have yet benefited from trade liberalization in environment goods and services. Many still lack the knowledge and capacity to harness trade and investment opportunities for environmental goods and services. Addressing such gaps requires concerted action for an inclusive, transparent and sustainable trading system.  The United Nations Environment Programme undertook a project to support and enable developing countries to objectively assess opportunities, benefits and challenges of liberalized trade in environmentally sound technologies. 


The project aims to contribute towards sustainable, environmentally credible and inclusive value chain integration and trade in environmentally sound technologies by providing support to developing countries to identify, assess and harness opportunities of liberalized trade in environmentally sound technologies, as well as to host dialogues with a broad range of stakeholders to discuss environmental technology trade opportunities and perspectives in developing countries.

Key Activities

Activity 1 – Regional assessments of opportunities for intra-regional trade liberalization of environmentally sound technologies

Assessments to identify opportunities for trade liberalization in selected environmentally sound technologies were undertaken in the regions of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East African Community (EAC). As part of each regional assessment, one national case study was developed, in order to assess the implications from enhanced regional value chain and trade cooperation in a particular country context. For the ASEAN region, a closer look was taken at the solar photovoltaic industry in Malaysia, while in the case of the EAC, trade and value chain development of solar photovoltaic products was assessed in Kenya. The ASEAN regional assessment can be accessed here and the EAC regional assessment can be accessed here.   

Activity 2 – Policy dialogue and capacity building workshop on trade in environmentally sound technologies

The events resulted in the collection and dissemination of national and regional best practices for value chain integration and trade in environmentally sound technologies. They built developing country understanding and capacity for effective integration in environmentally sound technology value chains and active involvement in trade negotiations. Ultimately, the dialogue and capacity building events have enabled policy makers to better assess options related to relevant trade liberalization processes and helped to build consensus, generate momentum and advance the agenda for future work.

Activity 3 – Global analysis of the role and implications of trade liberalization of environmentally sound technologies for developing countries

The global study outlined the history, context and status quo of international and regional negotiations on trade in environmentally sound technologies, explained the modalities of trade liberalization and implementation, and defined key related concepts. On the basis of this conceptual foundation, the analysis zoomed in on developing country participation in trade in selected environmentally sound technologies, identified opportunities and key challenges, and highlighted potential capacity needs. Building on this, it provided recommendations for harnessing opportunities and addressing risks.

This project was supported by the European Commission through the Global Public Goods and Challenges (GPGC) programme.

CTCN/United Nations Environment Programme Webinar on Trade in Environmentally Sound Technologies: Implications for Developing Countries

On 29th August 2019, the Environment and Trade Hub of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate Technology Centre & Network (CTCN) co-hosted a webinar entitled Trade in Environmentally Sound Technologies: Implications for Developing Countries. Bringing together speakers from UNEP, the WTO, Oxford University and the private sector, the webinar aims to contribute to the discussion and action on climate and sustainable development, while exploring synergies between climate, technology and trade. 

During the webinar, the speakers:

  • Highlight key findings from UNEP's Trade in ESTs study
  • Discuss opportunities and challenges for developing countries to harness trade in ESTs
  • Zoom in on key issues relevant to trade in ESTs including data gaps, trade and investment agreements, and trade in services.
  • Explore actions needed to fully unlock the potential of EST trade in developing countries
  • Touch on topics ranging from circular economy to south-south cooperation and gender and women’s participation in EST trade.

Click on the link below to view to the webinar recording.



Work by the Hub on Environmentally Sound Technologies (EST)

Relevant links