7 October - Trade is a vital tool in transitioning to a green economy, a senior United Nations official said today, underlining the importance of helping developing countries make the shift in the face of climate change.

“We just cannot avoid confronting the environmental issue,” Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), stressed at the start of a two-day meeting of experts in Geneva on the links between trade and sustainable development.

Poorer countries will need stepped-up assistance to acquire the technologies needed to ensure that economic growth is environmentally friendly, he said.

Mr. Supachai underlined that inequalities in resources and technology could result in sustainable development for only a few while the costs of environmental damage will be borne by all.

Trade is a crucial instrument in shifting to a green economy, but it cannot alone automatically provide incentives to developing countries, he cautioned, noting the pledge to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change made last December at a UN conference in Copenhagen.

The conclusions reached at the Geneva gathering will feed into the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, also called Rio+20, in reference to the 1992 Earth Summit held in the Brazilian city.

Sustainable development is a “wonderful concept but what it means and how it happens is the issue,” Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Conference Secretary-General for Rio+20, pointed out.

Trade, he said, is a “vital channel of green technology flows between countries,” but a green economy must be shaped to serve the greater goal of sustainable development for all of the world's countries.