Climate diplomacy

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team. 

The geopolitical consequences of the current and future climate crisis are substantial on each and every nation. Many countries have now chosen to reflect their climate policy actions within their foreign policy agendas. This inclusion of climate policy within foreign policy is known as climate diplomacy. With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, just around the corner, can the European Union influence climate discussions in a world where climate change is an emergency, but where geopolitics and diplomacy seems to influence most negotiations?

The EU has prioritised climate actions through its Green Deal, which will develop a comprehensive transformation to a low-emission economy, complete with the sustainable financing necessary to make it happen. Additionally, beyond the Green Deal, the European Union has also sought to embed and mainstream climate diplomacy throughout its external action. Such diplomacy, however, must be included in all policy, programmes and negotiations, not just in selective and certain countries. The climate change manifesto must be implemented equally in areas of trade, development cooperation, sustainable capital flows, gender equality, science, research and innovation and climate security, if it is to be truly effective.

The EU has been among the leading international actors advocating for climate change to be included within foreign affairs topics, and it has proficiently developed the concept of climate diplomacy to complement the international negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As a result, the EU is including the climate change agenda prominently in all its external affairs documents. This endorses the UNFCCC agenda by promoting low-emission and resilient transformations in partner countries, and climate security risks throughout foreign, defence and external economic policy, development cooperation, humanitarian aid, and all regional and bilateral relations.

Nevertheless, alongside the great work the Commission is doing on climate diplomacy, finance and partnership building with the engagement of civil society needs addressing beyond words. As the world emerges from the pandemic, and the devastating impacts it has had on most societies, the European Union will also have to push for financing models to support developing nations. International climate finance will be essential to deliver sustainable and global solutions, and such financing is in short supply following the pandemic. 

Furthermore, as geopolitical landscapes are becoming increasingly complex and fractious, they require ever more diplomatic language and compromise. Prioritising strategic alliances and partners at state- and non-state level must be facilitated. Dialogues and partnerships, on transitions to carbon-free societies, especially with emerging economies and those having a major impact on global warming, also need to be developed, and must include civil society actors, regions, cities and communities. These recommendations cannot be imposed by those developed countries who have had the luxury of polluting the environment before attempting to turn the tide of destruction. 

Climate diplomacy cannot just trickle through policy, it must become an integral part of discussions on conflict, migration, poverty, ecosystems and natural resources. For many countries that will require financial resources and knowledge expertise. As climate change also impacts gender, human rights, development and urbanisation, there must be a multilevel approach to solve these challenges –  Every level of those impacted must be included in the conversations, especially where communities are affected the most. 

The impacts of climate change have already been highlighted as influencing global peace and security. Climate change will affect competition over natural resources, including water,  and will undermine livelihoods, endangering stability of societies, institutions and governments. Difficult conversations therefore also need to be held with superpowers giants like the US, India, Russia and China. Many of these countries and others have geopolitical ambitions which may run counter to those of the European Union, and in several cases, tensions between the parties overshadow any chance of finding agreements. 

It is without doubt that everyone seeks to address the climate change agenda, but not at the expenses of their own ambitions. Thus climate diplomacy cannot only extend to foreign policy, but must look inwards, as the EU is doing with its Green Deal, to review how nation’s ambitions often conflict with the climate agenda. 

As with the Millennium Development Goals, Europe’s Lisbon Strategy and most global ambitions, international leaders are yet again failing to deliver on their promises. The climate change agenda is not one that will wait. Time is running out. There is no plan B. There is no time to quickly catch up. 

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