Topics publications: Trade and the environment

Working Papers

An update on the United Nations General Assembly and implications for African Sustainable Development Goals

The 74th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (UNGA 74) opened on 17 September 2019, with the General Debate taking place from 24 to 30 September 2019. This was a session of particular significance for the addressing of climate change and stimulating targeted action on the sustainable development goals (SDGs). There were numerous agenda points of UNGA 74 that had a specific focus on sustainable development, on Africa, and on sustainable trade. A particular talking point for Africa was the addressing of illicit financial flows which collectively siphon off billions of dollars out of Africa every year. It is essential that a global partnership is developed to stem this flow and to allow African countries to take the lead in generating the necessary funds for SDG realisation and sustainable support.

Although progress has been made towards achieving the SDGs and selected targets by 2030, it is clear that a redoubling of efforts and much greater global cooperation is needed to ensure their realisation by 2030. There are multiple challenges that countries and regions face, and a renewed spirit of multilateralism and global partnership is needed to pursue targeted interventions, to secure finance, and to ensure sustainable development. UNGA 74 gave countries and parties the opportunity to take stock of the SDGs and to identify interventions and critical entry points that have the potential to target and accelerate progress in achieving multiple SDGs. Developing countries are often stymied by lack of financing, knowledge access, and capacity to address the SDGs. It is only through global cooperation that these goals will be timeously and properly realised.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Climate Change and Fiscal Policy – Implications and Options for African countries

The most severe impacts of climate change are often felt by the least developed and low-income countries. These countries are scarcely able to afford the challenges of mitigating against and adapting to climate change given their fewer financial and institutional resources, but it is developed nations that are major drivers of climate change given their historical industrial outputs, and given their financial resources are better able to pursue mitigation and adaptation actions.

This paper provides an overview of the various macroeconomic risks associated with climate change. It will discuss fiscal considerations and consequences of climate change as well as discuss some appropriate policy measures. The paper will also address issues related to minimizing competitiveness effects when policy is designed to address climate change, particularly when domestic production prices rise in relation to international prices as a result of environmental taxes. Finally, the paper offers some ideas on how governments themselves can manage their exposure to climate change risks.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Global Warming: A Paradigm shift is required to avert disaster

The latest report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved on 6 October 2018 is a stark reminder of the dire consequences and impact of global warming, even under a more ambitious target of a 1.5°C limit. This is particularly concerning since parties to the Paris Agreement agreed to limit global warming to 2°C. The report shows that limiting it to the more ambitious target of 1.5°C would still have dire consequences.

The Report provides an outline of the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission pathways in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. The report contains findings based on available scientific, technical and socioeconomic literature. These findings, as well as comparisons between warming of 2°C, are discussed in this paper. The global impact of the two scenarios of 1.5°C and 2°C warming is outlined as well as their impact on Africa.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Reflections on Climate Change – from COP24 to…

The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (COP24) took place in Katowice, Poland from 2-14 December 2018. COP24, which marked the third anniversary of the Paris Agreement, was hosted under the specter of dire warnings presented by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5°C of Global Warming issued in October 2018.

COP24 had three main objectives. The first entailed the completion of the rulebook for the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. The second was to encourage nations to increase their carbon reduction pledges by 2020. Finally, COP24 sought to increase the climate-finance commitments for poor nations which are already suffering the impacts of climate change.

Given the seriousness of climate change/global warming and the fact that carbon emissions have risen for the first time in 3 years, COP24 called for a renewed sense of urgency for governments to pursue both climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

The production and export profiles of oil and mineral products from Africa

It is well known and generally accepted that Africa is heavily reliant on the export of fuels and minerals. The objective of this paper is to examine just how dependent the continent is on these exports (by commodities and countries). In order to do this, a trade classification has been developed which encompasses these products. For the purpose of further examination, the following eight sector groups have been selected: oil products, coal products, gold, copper, diamonds, platinum, iron ore, and aluminium.

Over the 2001 to 2017 period, oil has dominated African mineral/fuel exports. The next five commodities (coal, gold, copper, diamond and platinum) have similar export profiles, while iron ore and aluminium are less important to the continent. The selected grouping represents between 93% and 95% of all wider African mineral/fuel exports, and in turn these commodity exports represent about a 65% share of African global merchandise exports. There is also a suggestion that the concentration is increasing marginally over time.

By aggregate commodity and export destinations, the European Union (EU) has consistently been the main market, while China is gaining market share and the United States (US) is losing destination share. In future tralac publications, each of the eight sectors will be examined in sequence to provide a more detailed analysis which includes some background on production relative to the respective world profiles.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

Sustainable Development Goals within an African context

On 25 September 2015, the United Nations adopted a set of goals focused on ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all as vital components of a new sustainable development agenda. These goals have specific targets to be achieved over the 15-year period 2015-2030 and require the committed and active participation of all sectors of society, including governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals. These goals form a critical component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In Africa, the dual commitment to the 2030 Agenda and to the implementation of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 informs the vision and plan to build a more prosperous and sustainable Africa within the next 50 years. The importance of the AU Agenda 2063 is emphasised within the 2030 Agenda where it is considered as an integral part of achieving its goals.

This Working Paper seeks to give a broad overview of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within an African context. The paper covers trade-related (and closely aligned) indicators used to measure the success of the SDGs in Africa and what developments have occurred in this regard. It also delves further into SDG linkages with the African trade agenda and indicates how regional integration as well as trade facilitation could and should feature prominently in their success. Finally, a short data study is conducted looking at proxies for green energy and sustainable development in Africa.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

The significance of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is an international deal between 195 participating countries to gradually decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions directly linked to climate change. It aspires to prevent global average temperature increases of more than 2°Celsius which would have devastating effects of raising sea levels, causing major droughts, leading to more severe storms, threatening global food security and geopolitical stability. Already, 147 Parties of the 197 Parties to the convention have ratified the Agreement. The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

President Barack Obama committed the United States to lowering emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. These targets were not fixed and the broad aim was to increase them over time. Developed countries play an important role in the success of the Agreement. These economies have historically contributed more to emissions and are to help finance developing countries’ transition to cleaner forms of energy without stymying their potential economic growth. The plan is to raise $100 billion per year through a mix of public and private sources to finance this transition. By the end of 2016, Obama had already transferred $1 billion of an initial commitment of $3 billion to the United Nations Green Climate Fund (GCF) before leaving office.

President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement on June 1, 2017. The recent spending deal of the US Congress, which will fund the government through September 2017, has left out any contributions to the Fund. The US could, however, have stayed in the Paris accord even when opting not to pay into the GCF or to impose emissions cuts. Outside of the Paris Agreement the US will not be able to drive the climate change agenda, proposals, ideas or innovations. There will be serious diplomatic damage from the withdrawal as countries throughout the world see climate change as a substantial threat and recognise that in order to meet this global threat an effective global regime is needed.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

Sustainability in Madagascar

This working paper examines sustainability issues with respect to Madagascar. This seemingly uncontroversial and self-evident objective raises more questions than the paper is likely to provide answers for. The first problem is to define sustainability. From there we take a comprehensive look at the determinants of sustainability while at the same time remaining conscious of the complex inter-linkages between the ecosystem, macro-economic growth, human welfare indicators, and public policy.

Two background factors make the sustainability issue in Madagascar particularly critical. The first is that Madagascar was one of the last major landmasses on earth to be colonised by humans, while the second is that it is an island, and indeed the fourth largest island on the planet. Consequently, Madagascar has had distinct ecosystems and an extraordinary wildlife since it split from the African continent.

Overall, an analysis of sustainability and the review of progress being made in Madagascar is limited in that the issues are usually addressed as separate from trade and broader economic issues. However, we will argue that these issues are tightly related, and Madagascar is an especially important case given that the biodiversity of both the island and the marine life found in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around it is among the richest in the world.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Working Papers

The Paris Agreement one year later – where are the Parties to Framework Convention on Climate Change?

Much has been achieved in the relatively short span of time since the passing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015. The speed at which Parties ratified their respective agreements and deposited their instruments with the Secretariat emphasises the great importance that Parties place on the climate change challenge.

The Paris Agreement thus is expected to enter into force much sooner than initially expected. This will trigger a whole range of consequences as well as encouraging Parties which have not already ratified the Agreement to do so as soon as possible. 

This working paper provides an update on the implementation of the Paris Agreement by member states and related developments. A brief overview of the Paris Agreement will be given followed by the ratification process and developments in this regard. Finally, there will be a discussion about envisaged future developments and what current developments mean for future implementation and the combating of climate change.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.

Trade Briefs

Trade and competitiveness in African fish exports: Impacts of WTO and EU negotiations and regulation

Exports of inland and marine capture fish and fishery products (thereafter ‘fish’) are of integral importance to government revenues and income and employment generation in Sub-Saharan Africa (thereafter ‘Africa’). African countries face complex negotiations at the WTO-level on tariffs and fishery subsidies, and bilateral and regional negotiations with the EU in the formulation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPAs). In addition, they need to comply with increased food safety standards. The outcomes of WTO negotiations under the Doha ‘Development Round’ and changing EU regulations are likely to place new hurdles on African fish exporting countries. In this Trade Brief, we analyse how these countries can respond to these challenges.

Fish trade between Africa and the rest of the world is regulated via a complex overlap of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements. We focus here on aspects that affect market access and competitiveness of African fisheries exports to the EU, their main end-market.


Readers are encouraged to quote and reproduce this material for educational, non-profit purposes, provided the source is acknowledged. All views and opinions expressed remain solely those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of tralac.