Climate diplomacy gathers pace

Climate diplomacy gathers pace

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Date: 20th May 2013
Type: Feature
Countries: Asia, Marshall Islands

Mairi Dupar, CDKN's Global Public Affairs Co-ordinator, looks at how climate diplomacy can be used to drive change at the national and international levels.

As the impacts of climate change take hold, climate change is beginning to feature in countries’ foreign policies. Nowhere is this more the case than the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a Pacific island country that is now under drought orders and struggling to cope with rising sea levels.

Minister Tony de Brum of the Marshall Islands, recently wrote on, “Climate change is not a distant prospect, but a reality for us now.  People are starting to ask:  What is happening to our country?  What will my children do?  Not our grandchildren or great-grandchildren, but our children, who are already on the frontline” (See Action to Halt Warming Could Save My Nation).

In April, Minister de Brum was among the high level panellists, ambassadors, climate negotiators and analysts who met  to discuss the emergent field of climate diplomacy and what it can achieve. CDKN, E3G and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office convened the special workshop on climate diplomacy in London. Nick Mabey, Executive Director of E3G, presented the preliminary findings of a CDKN-supported review of the potential for climate diplomacy to propel national action and international  cooperation.

Climate policy “depends upon action in other policy areas to deliver substantive change,” said Mr Mabey, “this requires climate change to be aligned to other, usually more influential, actors in the national interest debate.”  On the home front, for instance, climate champions need to build alliances and negotiate trade-offs with actors who have more clout than they do, such as finance and energy ministries and investors. The same principle goes for the international arena: governments could cite the co-benefits of climate action in bilateral and multilateral relations, or use trade and security issues to negotiate better climate outcomes.

Participants suggested that climate change needs to be understood as a key element of the national interest, both in the domestic debate and in a country’s projection of its interests overseas. Such a framing would lead to climate issues being more effectively taken up in existing political and diplomatic channels.

It’s not just a question of formulating a smart policy line based on your own country’s national interests, though; it’s also about understanding which aspects of the climate debate – climate impacts or new, green growth opportunities – motivate other governments. “We need analysis of the national interests and trigger points of the big emitting nations so that we can speak their language,” said one participant from a least developed country.

The possibilities for climate diplomacy may even extend beyond the preserve of career diplomats, to other arenas for international cooperation, where there’s even wider scope for making the connections. “The UNFCCC deals with emissions reductions and allocation of cuts,” said Professor Michael Jacobs of the Grantham Institute. “Between high level targets and detailed institutional arrangements, there is a massive array of governments and businesses doing adaptation and mitigation and now spending trillions of dollars doing those things. Some are provided for by the international regime but most are not.”

How do we connect the reality of emissions reduction and adaptation on the ground and work by enterprises (mostly private, some state owned) which is actually what you need to do to address climate change? It’s not what climate diplomats do. It involves the economic and ministries that are doing the work to reduce emissions; it involves the businesses and financiers who are doing this both at national and international level – and it adds a whole new layer of complexity.”

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