The negative impact of climate change is in the spotlight of UN’s trade body. During her visit on the Panama Canal (18 and 19 May), UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD) secretary-general Rebeca Grynspan will see first-hand the increasing impacts of climate change on the Panama Canal and urge action to combat the growing threats to global trade and supply chains.

The secretary-general’s visit comes ahead of the first-ever Global Supply Chain Forum, to be staged by UN Trade and Development and the government of Barbados in Bridgetown from 21 to 24 May.

The Panama Canal is a critical global trade route linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and confronting low water levels, due to below-normal rainfall driven by the climate phenomenon “El Niño”.

Earlier analysis by UN Trade and Development estimated that total transits through the canal plummeted by 49% in January and 42% by April 2024, compared to the peak in December 2021.

Global Supply Chain Forum: Key issues at stake

The forum will be headlined by a high-level segment, where secretary-general Rebeca Grynspan will join UN deputy secretary-general Amina J. Mohammed, and prime minister Mia Amor Mottley of the host country Barbados.

More than 60 sessions will take place during the four-day event, bringing together government ministers, international organizations, academia and business leaders across transport, trade, logistics and supply chain management.

The discussions will revolve around priority issues related to financing, trade facilitation, transport connectivity, digitalization and technology, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction.

The event is part of a series of events to mark 60 years since the inception of UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a devoted advocate of the Global South on the world stage.

Keeping development economies in mind

Resilience and sustainability top the forum’s agenda, against the backdrop of geopolitical and climate-related challenges increasingly shifting trade patterns and reconfiguring supply chains.

It seeks to tackle the unique challenges facing small island developing states and landlocked developing countries. Far from the main lines of trade, these economies are particularly vulnerable to supply chain disruptions.

Climate-resilience, digital solutions, and trade facilitation

The forum will help unpack the opportunities and challenges for climate change adaptation in transport and trade logistics, with a special focus on seaports which are key to facilitating over 80% of global merchandise trade.

Turning to cutting-edge digital innovations to ease trade, the meeting in Barbados will highlight emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things.

It will take stock of how digitalization and automation reshape cross-border trade processes, enhance efficiency and accessibility, while improving regulatory compliance.