Source: International Trade Centre |

It is time for action: Putting small business first for a just and inclusive green transition

The International Trade Centre brought practitioners from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to amplify the voices of those most affected

Greater collaboration is needed to advocate for a paradigm shift in the international financing system

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 20, 2023/APO Group/ --

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum 2023, themed It is time for action, examined how trade can contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

“Climate change exacerbates existing issues. A just and inclusive green transition must involve the active participation of small businesses, especially those led by youth, women, Indigenous communities, and marginalized groups,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC) at the Public Forum’s kick-off session.

Sharing the stage with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State for Foreign Trade and Chair of the 13th WTO's Ministerial Conference Thani AI Zeyoudi, and COP28 Director-General Ambassador H.E. Majid Al Suwaidi, Coke-Hamilton emphasized that small businesses are key to driving the green transition. Therefore, their voices need to be heard at negotiation tables, including at the two major forthcoming global events, the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) and the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference in early 2024.

Small businesses often lack information, skills, technology and finance to take climate action. In ITC’s SME Competitiveness Survey 2022, conducted among African firms, only 38% of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises reported to have taken at least one measure to reduce exposure to environmental risks while the equivalent figure for large firms was 60%. 

What do small businesses need to not only mitigate and adapt to climate change but also to take advantage of emerging green business opportunities and participate in relevant decision making?

A closer look at ITC-hosted sessions

The International Trade Centre brought practitioners from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific to amplify the voices of those most affected. 

In a session co-hosted with the Caribbean Development Bank, Tasneem Essop, the Executive Director of Climate Action Network, Marike de Peña, the President of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of FairTrade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC) based in the Dominican Republic, and Jerry Spooner, the Executive Director of Regenerative Vanua shared their recommendations for a ‘A just and inclusive climate transition for small business’.

“Greater collaboration is needed to advocate for a paradigm shift in the international financing system, and for the need to measure better, build resilience, and adopt better measures for sustainable development,” said Hyginus 'Gene' Leon, President of the Caribbean Development Bank in Saint Lucia. “Helping small businesses in the climate transition, demands that Multilateral Development Banks and International Financial Institutions strengthen their advocacy as well as their financing, policy advice, capacity building, technical assistance, and other institutional support.”

Marike de Peña emphasized the importance of small holder farmers for food systems and food security. Therefore, they should be at the heart of policy development, as they are the ones affected by changing regulations and landscapes and receive more support to comply with new requirements regarding climate change adaptation and mitigation.

From an indigenous perspective, Jerry Spooner shared the success of Vanuatu’s new tourism strategy, that involves indigenous communities as business people – while preserving climate, culture and food and building resilience.

Making up 90% of businesses in most countries, small businesses are a transformative force. In ITC’s session ‘Small businesses Driving Africa’s Green Transition: The AfCFTA as a catalyst for environmentally friendly production, trade and consumption’, Deputy Executive Director Dorothy Tembo shared these three messages:

  1. Sustainable and resilient value chains are central to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the AU Agenda 2063

  2. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers an opportunity to advance sustainable production and trade in Africa – small businesses must be the driving force.

  3. ITC places environmental sustainability at the heart of its interventions to promote small business competitiveness.

The Ambassador of The Gambia in Geneva, H.E Muhammadou M.O. Kah replied by saying that climate crisis was a reality and greening a must. “We cannot do this as individuals, we must partner, and we have to make sure that we make it right. Multilateralism is the only hope, it must work,” he said.

Peter Nyeko, co-founder and CEO of Mandulis Energy from Uganda believes that small businesses can swiftly deliver solutions on a small scale and take advantage of international initiatives through the AfCFTA. However, communication was key to understanding the range of offers in the Free Trade Area.

Colette van der Ven, Founding Director of TULIP Consulting, added that the AfCFTA could be a lever for Africa’s green transition. Governments could look at implementing existing national provisions, including on non-tariff barriers, and to capitalize on value chains.

Jayasurya Kalakkal, Expert in Environment and Trade at the UN Environment Programme emphasized the importance of cooperation at the trade and environment nexus and that UNEP, as a partner, stood ready to support. 

Artificial Intelligence for Greener Trade

At ITC’s booth ‘AI for Greener Trade’, Senegalese entrepreneur Babacar Birane demonstrated how entrepreneurs can make their green business idea a reality by using artificial intelligence. His company Concree is supported by ITC’s FastTrackTech project that is part of the Netherlands Trust Fund, Phase V.

ITC was also proud to offer more examples of small business capacity-building tools, including ITC’s diagnostics tool for tech start-ups, the SME Trade Academy, and the Climate Smart Network, a directory of businesses with climate smart credentials.

Find the full programme of ITC’s participation at the WTO Public Forum here.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Trade Centre.