Environment Diplomacy

The combination of managing international relations related to environmental issues is known as environmental diplomacy (ED). The referent object in this case is environment, ED is a subject of vast importance as the issue of environment is borderless and no one country can solve it. Therefore, issues related to environment diplomacy include climate change, biodiversity, oceans, sustainable development etc.

Environment diplomacy in the realm of climate change is a multilateral process that was initiated in the 1990s when there was a consensus amongst many countries that climate change is occurring at an unprecedented rate and human activity is the primary reason behind it. The first ever effort of ED was made in the Rio Summit of 1992 with the main aim of cooperating together on sustainable development issue after the Cold War. From the many outcome that were introduced as part of the Rio Summit one was the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The main objective of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gases in the environment at the atmospheric levels. The formal meetings of the UNFCCC meetings is called the Conference of Parties (COP) that annually review the progress dealing with climate change. The 3rd COP was held in Kyoto and was just referred to as the Kyoto Protocol, it was very significant as there was an understanding that the developed countries are more to blame for the release of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere than the emerging economies. The Kyoto protocol set up targets to monitor and regulate the amount of GHGs. This was one of the biggest treaty on climate change till the 21st COP.

All Roads Lead to Paris

Copenhagen summit was the 15th COP and was mostly successful in bringing all the major countries together but was criticised for a tabling a ‘weak document’. The Copenhagen summit failed because countries had an issue with one set of rules that was globally panned and would be the same for developed countries as well as emerging economies. The Copenhagen summit had first talked about setting up a fund of $100 billion by 2020, but it made this completely voluntarily. This was seen as a diplomatic failure as instead of a top-down model, which was required at that time, the COP relied on a pledge and review process. The Copenhagen failure was so devastating that many academics referred it as the period ‘that almost ended climate diplomacy’.

The 21st COP marked the historical beginning of the Paris Climate Treaty that targets to keep the temperature below 2°C below of the pre-industrial level and aims at 1.5°C as the extensive target. The biggest achievement of this treaty is that at the time of signing around 185 countries were already on board, these countries accounted for 94% of the world’s pollution and 97% of the world’s population, the treaty talked about financing the climate change mitigation through the creation of a corpus fund of $100 billion financed by the developed countries. This treaty is also legally binding to all countries that have ratified it. The Paris Climate Accord is seen as a stepping stone from the Copenhagen summit.

The Paris climate accord was able to focus on some aspects of environmental diplomacy that were known earlier but had no examples they could boast about. It moved away from the conventional model of meeting, drafting and signing an agreement which did lip service to tackling the issue of climate change, instead it set up a new institutional framework. Till 2010 the entire issue of climate change was focused on NGOs, civil society, independent organizations, local governments and multinational corporate houses. There was no focus given to the secretariat of COP as it had limited autonomy and was restricted to the UN. This role of the secretariat wasn’t valued in the analyses of rising temperatures, the methodology that came about to be used was hearing the voices from the lowest rung of the group and work towards a consensus building. One of the biggest aspect was coming up with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that gave a sense to all stakeholders that they were doing as much as they could, it gives vulnerable countries a chance to fight against climate change without threatening their developmental goals. Another methodology is inclusive multilateralism that involved all stakeholders in international rule making. It emphasises on the basic need of keeping the marginalized in mind as they are the ones most affected by climate change. Copenhagen was different as it practised something called open multilateralism which led to its failure. Coordinated negotiations with smaller groups also seemed more effective where key issues were targeted. All of these diplomatic efforts led to the success of Paris Climate Accords.

Après moi le déluge

Despite the success the Paris Treaty has stumbled onto some roadblocks that may be minor but are seen as a spoiler. The biggest polluting country of this planet, China, has got a free pass as a developing country or emerging economy. It accounts for at least 28% of GHGs emissions in 2014, but the Paris treaty has given it extra time to further its economic development. This creates a huge disparity between countries and goes against the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The US saw this and deemed it unfair by saying that a country like China which is an oil guzzling powerhouse is allowed to pursue its developmental goals while the USA is not. Two years down the line the Trump administration pulled out of the Paris Climate Treaty calling it unfair. This also raises the point that the USA never required a legislative approval for joining and an executive order with a sign would seal the deal, this removed the requirement for the US Congress to ratify the agreement. The US is the second largest polluter in the world and have contributed to a total of 28% of the GHGs since the 1750s, it could be said that the decision makers at the 21st COP didn’t have their ear to the ground in terms of anticipating future threats. The period of formal stocktaking is another issue, where the first stocktaking process would began by 2023 that is roughly 7 years after signing the treaty. The question that is often raised is when energy demand and population is growing at an unprecedented rate the wait till 2023 feels a bit stretched out too. A dimension that has been continuously ignored is the historical aspect of pollution by eliminating any form of compensations for loss and damage that has occurred due to adverse impact on climate change.

However all of this may not be too bad as the latest 24th COP in Katowice in Poland was meant specifically to come up with a new handbook for the Paris Climate Treaty. The rulebook talks about the action plan for managing climate change, it further mentions about how financing the $100 billion by 2020. It also recognises the dangers of climate change for some of the most vulnerable groups like some island-States that may have to move some part of their populace to a safer area, but it fails to address on how this is going to happen. Talks about providing transparency, discontinuance of old carbon credits and reducing the temperature to 1.5°C by 2030 was met with stark rejection as it would lead to total discontinuation of fossil fuels. The issue of article 6 that talked about establishing a market mechanism for trading carbon was deferred till the COP 25 in Chile in 2019.

The methodology to tackle climate change has been initiated but it is going at a snail’s pace as it a multilateral and inclusive process. However, the good thing about all this is that securitization of environment vis-à-vis climate change has occurred and there are actual steps undertaken to fight climate change. All of us have to just wait and watch how this takes shape, whether it happens or not it is going to affect our lives in some way or the other.

(This article was part of my assignment of the paper: Diplomacy and International Governance)


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