Handbook of the International Political Economy of Trade
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Handbook of the International Political Economy of Trade

Edited by David Deese

David A. Deese brings together leading researchers and writers from different countries and disciplines in a coherent framework to highlight the most important and promising research and policy questions regarding international trade. The content includes fundamental theory about trade as international communication and its effects on growth and inequality; the domestic politics of trade and trends in government trade policies; the implications of bilateral and regional trade (and investment) agreements; key issues of how trade is governed globally; and how trade continues to define and advance globalization from immigration to the internet.
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Chapter 6: From “investor rights” to “sustainable development”? Challenges and innovations in international investment rules

Lyuba Zarsky


Since the 1992 Earth Summit, sustainable development has emerged as the guiding vision – at least rhetorically – for global economic governance. Stated as a central objective in the founding document of the World Trade Organization, sustainable development implies a trajectory that integrates improvements in human well-being and social equity with reductions in environmental risks and scarcities. In simple terms, it points toward a “green economy” that is “low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive” (UNEP 2011: 1). Investment, both domestic and foreign, is crucial in moving from envisioning to implementing pathways to sustainable development. In the energy sector alone, the International Energy Agency estimates that an additional $750 billion to $1.6 trillion per year to 2030 and $1.6 trillion per year between 2030 and 2050 will be needed to halve global carbon emissions by 2050 (IEA 2010). UNEP estimates that $1.3 trillion per year is needed to halve carbon emissions as well as to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2050 (UNEP 2011). Mobilizing private capital towards climate mitigation and, more generally, sustainable development requires domestic and international policies that enable investors to embed public purpose in the search for private return – that is, to “embed sustainability” in business strategy and management (Laszlo and Zhexambayeva 2011). Originating in the 1960s, current international investment rules have a much narrower aim, namely to protect the property rights of foreign investors in host countries.

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