Climate policy on the international level often seems to be largely limited to negotiations
within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC). However, in the shadow of these negotiations, a new approach merging climate and foreign policy is developing. Calling it “climate diplomacy,” proponents of this approach argue that tackling climate change is inherently a political struggle and one in which classic diplomatic instruments should play a role. This is especially true, since the challenges posed by climate change are so huge and the solutions so far reaching that the climate conversation also has to be a diplomatic one. Yet negotiations and treaties are just one instrument of foreign policy and they are only as successful and strong as the political foundation upon which they are built.
The German Federal Foreign Office, supported by adelphi, invited representatives from the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United Nations, as well as over 30 countries for a two-day conference in Berlin this October, “Climate Diplomacy in Perspective – From Early Warning to Early Action,” to discuss what climate diplomacy looks like in practice, what its added value is, and what challenges it is best suited to address.
In working groups on water diplomacy, food security, and coastal stability, common themes and questions quickly emerged. In particular, the value and danger of securitizing the climate change discourse was a prominent issue.
On the one hand, the securitization of issues such as transnational water sharing can raise threat perception to a level that makes it very hard to tackle and may even foster conflict. On the other hand, participants noted that framing climate change as a security challenge might help to finally create the political leverage needed for far-reaching action.
Another common theme was the complexity and linked nature of the climate challenges faced. Although covering different aspects, each working group quickly recognized systems with multiple feedback loops, such as the water-food-energy nexus. The same point was underlined in discussions around complex emergencies and crises, such as the 2010 floods in Pakistan.
However, the discussion did not stop at an analysis of challenges, the working groups also developed many suggestions of what climate diplomacy could and should look like.
One shared recommendation was that the complexity of and links between issues require sectoral policies and institutions to reach beyond their traditional, thematic, and even geographic focus. In regards to cross-border water cooperation, for example, this means that regional political institutions are often better suited than water institutions because of their broader mandate and focus. Where classic diplomacy and regional cooperation do not work, for example because national governments are blocking these efforts, participants proposed that informal diplomacy, track two initiatives, and cooperation on lower administrative levels such as municipalities can provide alternatives.
The complexity of the challenges is daunting but when asked to summarize why diplomats should tackle climate change, John Ashton, the special representative for climate change for the British Commonwealth Foreign Office, summed up his understanding in a simple but to-the-point answer: “Because it is our job.”
Lukas Rüttinger is a project manager for adelphi, mainly focusing on the fields of conflict analysis and peacebuilding as well as resources and governance.
Photo Credit: German Federal Foreign Office.