Global negotiations on fighting climate change have been going on for years. Discussions at World Trade Organisation level aimed at reducing or completely abolishing customs duties for environmental products, have been held for a long time. In accordance with EU negotiators, however, it would be in particular the barrier-free trade with environmental goods that would make a contribution to reduce the impact of climate change.
On the subject of trade and climate change, Nicola Notaro, civil servant at the Directorate-General for the Environment of the European Commission explained at a meeting with the Civil Society that they was a possibility that some progress could be made this year in the fight against climate change. The G8 Summit in Aquila, which will have the climate change on its agenda, is already taking place in July. The Major Economies Forum too, a gathering of 16 countries, which together account for 80 % of the global CO2 emissions would be an important event to discuss measures against climate change. The Forum had already met in Washington at the end of April 2009 to debate clean energy generation, the financing of environmental technologies and the necessary legal framework. The representatives of the Major Economies Forum do not regard themselves as competitors to the UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, which have been scheduled for December 2009. The UN Conference will be particularly concerned with a supplementary agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. Great hopes have been pinned on the USA after US President Obama had signalled readiness to support measures against the climate change.

Notaro answered questions as to whether there were any considerations with respect to changing the structures of the Directorate-Generals of the Commission. It could happen that parts of the Environmental and Energy Directorate would be combined to a General-Directorate for Climate and Energy. Representatives of the Civil Society reacted with scepticism to this information.

Several experts, among others Mahesh Sugathan of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, Krister Holm of the Swedish Society for Nature Conversation and Helle Juhler Verdoner of Alstom Power System elaborated on their thoughts on the trade with environmental products.

Hence, the value of the global trade with environmental products and services would amount to about $ 650 billion. One of the core problems of the negotiations at WTO level is that there is currently no definition as to what would qualify as an environmental product. A pump, for example, could be such a product if it was used for solar hot water systems; pumps, however, are also used to produce crude oil; in that case they can no longer be classified as environmental product. Countries would have very different ideas about environmental products. Qatar, for example, would like to include natural gas systems; Brazil campaigns for considering biofuels. There was a lot of resistance in particular with respect to biofuel, as the question had to be asked whether generating these fuels would be to the detriment of the rainforest and whether it would not simply be an agricultural product. Another problem would be the continuous development of products which bear reference to the environment.

With respect to customs duties for environmental products it is the target to at least reduce maximum customs duties. The actually applied customs duties are normally significantly below maximum customs duties. Of course, the reduction of customs duties alone, however, is not the answer. A package of measures would be needed to slow down the climate change. The question, whether trading with environmental products could infringe against intellectual property rights, was also raised. Recent studies, however, reveal almost no infringements against intellectual property rights. The representative of Alstom Power Systems emphasized that a price for CO2 emissions had to be introduced. Consequently, this would mean that the development of green technologies would be profitable for private companies, as this in turn would result in a greater demand of environmentally friendly energy generation processes.

It remains to be seen, which results the conferences on climate change will bring in the coming six months. A speedy breakthrough, in spite of the new commitment of the USA to fight climate change, is, however, not to be expected.