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 for example been discussed in the negotiations of the Environmental Goods Agreement. 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. UN Environment is, therefore, undertaking 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, and 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 are being conducted in the region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East African Community (EAC). As part of each regional assessment, one national case study is being 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 is being taken at the solar photovoltaic industry in Malaysia, while in the case of the EAC, trade and value chain development of solar photovoltaic products are being assessed in Kenya. 

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

The events will collect and disseminate national and regional best practices for value chain integration and trade in environmentally sound technologies, and seek to build 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 aim to enable policy makers to better assess options related to relevant trade liberalization processes. It could also help 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 will outline the history, context and status quo of international and regional negotiations on trade in environmentally sound technologies, explain the modalities of trade liberalization and implementation, and define key related concepts. On the basis of this conceptual foundation, the analysis will zoom in on developing country participation in trade in selected environmentally sound technologies, identify opportunities and key challenges, and highlight potential capacity needs. Building on this, it will provide recommendations for harnessing opportunities and addressing risks.

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


Work by the Hub on Environmentally Sound Technologies (EST)

Relevant links