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Keynote Address: Renewable Energy and International Trade: Towards a Global Grid

Discours-programme: L’énergie renouvelable et le commerce international: vers une grille globale


November 14, 2014

William Crosbie 

Assistant Deputy Minister and Legal Adviser, Consular, Security, and Legal, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) 


Thomas Cottier

Managing Director, World Trade Institute and the Institute of European and International Economic Law; Professor of European and International Economic Law, University of Bern



Anna Jeffery 

2018 JD/MA Candidate




Professor Cottier’s presentation focused on the idea of a global grid for electricity, which would connect the entire world and provide access to renewable energy. He gave an explanation of the benefits that this would have for the global community, while also acknowledging the objections to this framework and the obstacles that continue to stand in the way of the implementation of this proposal. He stated that we must focus on diversification of energy from renewable sources, and that electricity is such a necessity in our modern world that it should be considered a human right. 


Cottier elaborated on a case study of wind farming in Greenland, where there are plans to provide wind energy to North America and Europe through internet under-sea cables. This idea goes back to Buckminster Fuller’s idea in the 1930s of a global grid to secure peace and interdependence, which is now starting to be implemented on a regional basis in Europe. 


A global grid is feasible from an engineering perspective, but there are many people who object based on the belief that renewable energy should be used as a tool to move away from energy monopolies. The biggest problem that this network continues to face is governance and the question of what type of system needs to be established in order to make this feasible. Cottier believes that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is in a good position to facilitate the negotiations to bring about a global grid. However, we must rethink peoples needs and ensure they are at the heart of these negotiations since WTO’s current rules do not adequately address the underlying issues people have with this idea of this type of global network.


The audience asked Cottier to expand on his proposal of the human right to electricity, and posed questions about where he saw the impetus coming from for this type of global negotiation given the issues of sovereignty that it poses. He stated that our task as intellectuals is to bring forth ideas and that while we are currently still at the idea stage of this process. He is optimistic for the future, however, and believes that the political atmosphere will be ripe for positive change in this area at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in 2015.

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