Assuming Away the Problem: The Vexing Relationship between International Trade and Environmental Protection
19 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2012
Date Written: August 14, 2012
What does global trade mean for the environment of any particular place? It can produce place-based transformations that are both positive and negative. The Kuznets curve is often touted as a solution that resolves the conflict between trade promotion and environmental protection by purporting to demonstrate that increasing overall social wealth through trade inevitably produces increased environmental protection.
This paper disputes the putative relationship between global trade and environmental protection embodied by the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis. Part I describes the growth of the Kuznets curve meme, and the influence this approach has had on legal and policy choices surrounding development and environmental protection. Part II details the flaws inherent in a Kuznets curve-influenced development strategy, leveling both practical and theoretical critiques of its central thesis that economic development inherently creates a more sustainable society. Having rejected the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis, Part III briefly highlights some possible alternatives for addressing the tensions between global trade and sustainability.
Keywords: Kuznets curve, globalization, human rights, exploitation, sustainable development, WTO, trade
JEL Classification: A11, A12, B25, D24, F02, H10, H40, K10, K20, K32, K33, L71, L72, N50, N56, O13, O19, Q17, Q30, Q32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation