About UNEP Economics and Trade Branch

Located within the United Nations Environment Programme's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, the Economics and Trade Branch (UNEP-ETB) seeks to conserve the environment, reduce poverty, and promote sustainable development by enhancing the capacity of governments, businesses, and civil society to integrate environmental considerations into economic, trade, and financial policies and practices in accordance with the partnership and integrated policy-making approaches of sustainable development.

In pursuing its mission, UNEP-ETB focuses on four complementary programme areas:

  1. Promoting integrated policy design and implementation emphasising sound environmental management, sustainable trade promotion, and poverty reduction;

  2. Strengthening environmental management and implementation of multilateral environmental agreements through economic instruments and subsidy reform;

  3. Promoting mutually supportive trade and environment policies;

  4. Enhancing the role of the financial sector in sustainable development.

ETB Newsletter :
Economic Globalization -
Seizing Opportunities and Addressing Challenges
(January 2007)


Promoting integrated policy design and implementation emphasising sound environmental management, sustainable trade promotion, and poverty reduction

  • Supporting developing countries to integrate environmental and sustainable development considerations, including sustainable trade, into poverty reduction strategy papers;

  • Supporting countries to translate findings from integrated assessments into practical policies that contribute to sustainable development;

  • Expanding IAP to additional sectors and countries;

  • Promoting the use of integrated assessment methodologies by national governments, development organisations, non-governmental organisations, and other UN bodies;

  • Promoting and refining analytical tools to support integrated assessment and policy-making, including economic valuation of the environment, integrated economic and environmental accounting, and lifecycle analysis;

  • Building global partnerships for capacity building for sustainable development. In 2003, UNEP-ETB launched the Network of Institutions for Sustainable Development (NISD), which brings together regional and national research and training institutions worldwide to promote integration of environmental and sustainable development issues into economic and trade policies through increased capacity building, communication, targeted research, and assistance to governments.

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Strengthening environmental management and implementation of multilateral environmental agreements through economic instruments and subsidy reform

Economic decisions that ignore environmental costs, such as pollution and resource depletion, leave these costs to be borne by others. Similarly, government subsidies of polluting or high resource-use activities make such activities artificially cheaper, encouraging higher levels of such activities and exacerbating their environmental damage. Subsidies also reduce the fiscal revenues available to support poverty reduction, making sustainable development even more difficult to achieve. In response to these problems, UNEP-ETB is:


  • Promoting the use of economic instruments for environmental policy

UNEP-ETB assists countries to design and use economic instruments to internalise environmental costs, correct market and policy failures, and influence production and consumption patterns. UNEP-ETB assists policy makers to design economic instruments that fit local conditions and specific sectors; raises awareness through publications such as its report Opportunities and Challenges for the Use of Economic Instruments in Environmental Policy Making; and works with the World Bank, UNDP, OECD and the German Development Ministry GTZ to promote environmentally sound fiscal reforms . UNEP-ETB is also exploring the potential for facilitating an international consultative process to promote economic instruments in key environmental sectors.

  • Promoting subsidy reform and sustainable resource management

Since 1997, UNEP-ETB has led efforts to reform harmful fishery subsidies. In 2004 UNEP-ETB initiated a major project to promote sustainable management of the fishery sector in developing countries. Focusing on artisanal fisheries, poverty reduction, employment, and food security, the project aims to encourage the development of national practices and new WTO rules that support sustainable fisheries and fishing industries in developing countries.

  • Promoting the use of economic instruments for MEA implementation

UNEP-ETB is working to explore opportunities for economic instruments to achieve the objectives of the major multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and promote synergies in implementing different MEAs. Through country projects undertaken jointly with MEA secretariats, UNEP-ETB is encouraging the use of market-based incentives for MEA implementation and, simultaneously, the creation of market-access opportunities for environmental public goods and services to support poverty reduction.

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Promoting mutually supportive trade and environmental policies

Trade and environmental policies are often developed and implemented in isolation of one another, with the risk that policies from one may negatively affect the other. UNEP-ETB works to integrate environmental considerations in trade policy development and implementation. In 2000 UNEP and UNCTAD launched a joint Capacity Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development (CBTF). The CBTF seeks to maximize trade's contribution to sustainable development by building capacities in developing countries through five complementary activities: thematic research, country projects, training, policy dialogues, and networking and information exchange. The CBTF's current focus is on organic agriculture, environmental goods and services, and the MEA-WTO relationship. In sum, UNEP-ETB's work to promote mutually supportive trade and environmental policies includes:

  • Promoting assessments of trade-related policies at the national level

Since 1997 UNEP-ETB has supported numerous country-driven national-level integrated assessments of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of trade and trade liberalization in sectors such as fisheries, forestry, and agriculture. UNEP-ETB's most recent round of country projects looked at the impacts of trade liberalization in the rice sector in China, Colombia, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, and Vietnam.

  • Promoting coherence between MEAs and the WTO

The World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Doha Ministerial Declaration welcomed cooperation between the WTO and UNEP and launched formal negotiations on the relationship between MEAs and the WTO. UNEP-ETB works to enhance synergies and reduce potential conflicts between MEAs and the WTO; build relations between trade and environment officials to promote mutually supportive trade and environment policies; and preserve opportunities for trade-related measures in future environmental instruments.

  • Promoting environmental goods and services (EGS)

UNEP-ETB is working to ensure that the liberalization of EGS currently being negotiated in the WTO under paragraph 31(iii) of the DMD promotes environmental protection, sustainable development, and MEA implementation.

  • Promoting environmental considerations in regional trade agreements (RTAs)

Recent years have seen a rapid proliferation of RTAs. Much more, however, must be done to ensure that environmental concerns become an integral part of the negotiation, implementation, and monitoring of these agreements. UNEP-ETB is currently developing a capacity building programme to: assist developing countries to assess the environmental and socio-economic impacts of RTAs; support the sharing of national experiences of the negotiation and implementation of RTAs; and assist trade and environment negotiators to integrate environmental concerns into RTAs.

  • Promoting sustainable agriculture

For many countries the agriculture sector is a critical source of livelihood, food security, and economic development. For a number of years, UNEP-ETB has been assisting countries to promote sustainable agriculture through the application of assessment methodologies in various sectors including bananas, cocoa, gum, cotton, and rice. UNEP-ETB is currently working on organic agriculture as a tool for environmental and biodiversity conservation, market access, poverty reduction, and food security. UNEP-ETB is collaborating with the FAO and UNCTAD under the UNEP-UNCTAD CBTF to promote production and trading opportunities for organic agricultural products in East Africa . UNEP-ETB is also involved in the FAO/UNCTAD/IFOAM International Task Force on harmonization and equivalency in organic agriculture.

  • Promoting the conservation of biodiversity

Economic policies that promote unsustainable exploitation contribute to the current unprecedented rate of global biodiversity loss. UNEP-ETB is assisting developing countries to quantify the impacts of trade on biodiversity and develop economic instruments and macroeconomic policies that protect biodiversity objectives. UNEP-ETB recently launched a four-year initiative to build capacities to design and implement trade-related agricultural policies that maximize development gains while minimizing the impact on agricultural biodiversity. This initiative involves pilot country projects in six developing countries from Africa , the Caribbean and the Pacific.


Enhancing the role of the financial sector in sustainable development

Financial flows, policies, and institutions have profound implications for sustainable development. UNEP's Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) seeks to promote best environmental and sustainability practices at all levels of financial institutions' operations. This includes supporting projects that promote sustainable production and consumption patterns, environmentally sound technologies, and poverty reduction. UNEP FI focuses on six main activities:

  • Promoting increased engagement of financial institutions in key MEAs through on-line information;

  • Overseeing creation of UN-endorsed Principles for Responsible Investment, specifically targeting the largest institutional investors;

  • Promoting stable and sustainable investment in emerging markets;

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  • Providing environmental and sustainability training services for financial institutions in developing countries and transition economies;

  • Establishing funds to serve basic sustainability needs for marginalized communities in the poorest countries; and

  • Responding to member governments' requests for work on specific sustainability challenges related to financial institutions and capital markets, particularly in the water and energy sectors.

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