UCL Faculty of Laws


International Trade and the Environment (LAWS0297)

This module is designed for students with a specific interest in the increasingly complex and important interface between international trade and environmental regimes from the perspective of public international law. 

The aim of this module is to equip students with advanced knowledge and critical understanding of the growingly complex interaction between international trade and environmental protection from the perspective of public international law and domestic governmental regulation (i.e., State-centred norms). Since the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, States have consistently pledged to ensure ‘mutual supportiveness’ between international trade and environmental policies in several international treaties and other legal or policy instruments. And yet, the precise meaning and implications of ‘mutual supportiveness’ remain contentious. In fact, are the international trade and environmental regimes inherently in conflict? To the extent this is so, does ‘mutual supportiveness’ assist us in reconciling existing tensions? And if it does not, how should we reconcile competing trade and environmental objectives and who should undertake such a reconciliatory or balancing exercise? The module will offer students the opportunity to explore and critically evaluate these challenging questions, through an in-depth analysis of prominent environmental measures or principles and their relationship with the law of the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

It will begin with an introduction to the underlying conceptual framework, including the notions of ‘mutual supportiveness’, ‘sustainable development’ and ‘conflicts of norms’ in public international law. Thereafter, each of the eight substantive seminars will select a contemporary environmental issue and critically examine its compatibility with WTO rules. In other words, to what extent do WTO disciplines hinder –or conversely, support– the adoption of trade-related measures to protect the global environment? As could be expected, most of the trade-environment nexus examined in the module concerns climate change mitigation as today’s most pressing environmental threat confronting our societies (e.g., border carbon adjustments and promotion of climate-friendly renewable energy), but it will also consider other global environmental concerns (e.g., biodiversity, precaution and fight against unsustainable fishing practices). In the last seminar, we move beyond the WTO and examine environmental provisions in free trade agreements (FTAs), which are playing an increasingly important role in regulating the trade-environment relationship.

Module Syllabus

This will vary from year to year but, indicatively, the module will cover the following seminar topics: 

  1. Introduction to the Module/Introduction to the ‘Trade-and-Environment’ Debate 

  1. The MEA/WTO Relationship 

  1. Forest Conservation and GATT 

  1. Border Carbon Adjustments and GATT 

  1. CBDRRC Principle and GATT 

  1. Precautionary Principle and SPS Agreement 

  1. Renewable Energy Subsidies and SCM Agreement 

  1. Unsustainable Fishing Subsidies and SCM Agreement 

  1. Biological Diversity and TRIPS Agreement 

  1. Beyond the WTO: Environmental Provisions in Free Trade Agreements

Recommended Materials

Individual seminar reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, once students have made their module selections upon enrolment. 

Preliminary Reading

As an introduction to the module, students are recommended to read: 

  • S. Charnovitz, ‘An Introduction to the Trade and Environment Debate’ in K. P. Gallagher (ed), Handbook on Trade and the Environment (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2008); 

  • P. Sands and J. Peel, Principles of International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press, 4th edition, 2018), Chapter 18. 

Key information

Module details
Credit value:22.5 credits (225 learning hours)
Convenor:Gracia Marin Duran
Other Teachers:


Teaching Delivery:10 x 2-hour weekly lectures, Term Two
Who may enrol:LLM students only
Must not be taken with:None
Qualifying module for:LLM in Environmental Law and Policy
LLM in International Law
Practice Assessment:TBD
Final Assessment:48 Hour Take Home Paper (100%)