Neoliberal Environmentalism, Climate Interventionism and the Trade-Climate Nexus

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Trade has become an increasingly core part and defining feature of our globalising world economy, and so by default has become integrally linked to climate change and action. Trade has not only rapidly expanded over recent decades but also driven contemporary economic devel-opment and growth, especially in countries where carbon and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have too risen sharply. Increasing attention has consequently been afforded to the nexus between trade and climate change. Trade is now a key front for climate action. For some time, neoliberal environmentalism has been viewed as the dominant discourse on climate policy and other aspects of environmental governance. However, it has been very rarely applied to, or its relevance tested against the trade-climate nexus specifically. The paper presents a study on this relationship based on new original empirical research and the investigation of the following hypotheses or research questions. To what extent has neoliberal environmentalism thus far dominated mainstream international and global discourses on trade-linked efforts on climate ac-tion? What have been the principal features of neoliberal environmentalism within these dis-courses? Do the results of the study’s empirical research suggest the need to include other rele-vant analytical approaches to develop a better comprehension of how trade-climate nexus issues are being addressed? In addressing the above the paper develops an analytical framework com-prises modelled normative elements of neoliberal environmentalism as well as relevant concepts of state-market relations. This frames the discursive evaluation of the study’s research that is based on a multi-stage, in-depth text analysis of 37 key publications produced by global economic institutions (GEIs) on the trade-climate nexus from 2007 to 2022. Market-based instruments (MBIs) were found to be by far the strongest normative element in this text corpus. This subse-quently provided scope for exploring whether different forms of ‘climate interventionism’ were evident in the trade-climate nexus, and thus more nuanced and alternative understandings of the subject. The paper’s main contribution to the literature on this subject is to open up ideas and debate concerning how important aspects of neoliberal environmentalism overlap with, and can be better understood in the context of state-market relations. Evidence from this study’s research suggests that in the trade-climate nexus discourse there exists considerable space for states and international institutions to adopt, promote and innovate different forms of climate interven-tionism through various trade policy and governance actions. It is further argued that MBI-based trade related policies can only take us so far in climate action efforts. More ardent forms of state and other institutional interventions, from the local to the global-international levels, are required to ultimately achieve increasingly urgent climate goals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15804
Number of pages26
Issue number23
Early online date28 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Trade
  • Climate
  • Neoliberalism
  • Environmentalism
  • State-market relations
  • Global institutions


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