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Mitigating climate change and promoting sustainability are defining challenges of our time. Public procurement has a vital role to play in responding to the current crises. This article makes the case that the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA), and specifically the Work Programme on Sustainable Procurement that has been initiated pursuant to the Agreement, can serve as important instruments to promote sustainable approaches to public procurement internationally, consistent with the goals of climate change mitigation.

The Work Programme, which was established at the time of the GPA’s modernization in 2012 and on which important work has already been done but which has recently been relatively dormant, mandates the Organization’s Committee on Government Procurement to study, inter alia, “the ways in which sustainable procurement can be practiced in a manner consistent with Parties’ international trade obligations ”and to prepare a report that sets out best practices concerning relevant measures and polices. This provides an essential and attractive platform for responding to the crisis.

The article sets out important related background, including with respect to: (i) a “change of mindset” with respect to environmental sustainability which is already embodied in the amended GPA text adopted in 2012; (ii) existing GPA provisions that provide windows of opportunity for the advancing of related objectives; and (iii) importantly, ongoing developments in key GPA Parties and at the international level that both: (a) point the way toward meaningful change; and (b) suggest, in our view, a need for a modest degree of international coordination to avoid conflict and ensure continuing market openness. These developments portend a rich agenda of possibilities for further discussions in the WTO Work Programme.

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