Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century - the repercussions for our foreign policy agenda are substantial. Increasing water scarcity, additional flooding and extreme weather events directly threaten the livelihoods of millions worldwide and, in some cases, force people to migrate or trigger violent conflict. A stronger role for foreign policy in international climate policy has been called for – namely through climate diplomacy.

The German Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with adelphi and its partners has therefore launched the Climate Diplomacy initiative together with a number of activities designed to support action on climate change.

In 2016, the Council of the European Union defined three strands that climate diplomacy has to build upon after COP21: (1) continuing to advocate climate change as a strategic priority in diplomatic dialogues, public diplomacy and external policy instruments; (2) supporting implementation of the Paris Agreement, in the context of low-emission and climate resilient development; and (3) increasing efforts to address the nexus between climate, natural resources, prosperity, stability and migration. Diplomacy must play an active role in these efforts, and utilise the entire toolbox at its disposal.

The Paris Agreement, concluded in December 2015, is an historic milestone and a significant victory for multilateral diplomacy. Countries now need to ensure that they implement all their national contributions and collectively ratchet up ambition over time in order to reach the 2° target and, preferably, to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change.

Yet, foreign policies do not deal with the negotiation process alone. They also play a crucial role in the implementation of climate policies, such as the establishment of carbon markets, the transformation energy systems, the building of resilient societies and the creation of partnerships for sustainable resource management. These tasks are central to diplomatic efforts in both bilateral- and multilateral contexts. Moreover, early diplomatic engagement is imperative for confronting the geopolitical consequences and security implications of climate change.

Under the German presidency in July 2011, the UN Security Council unanimously recognized that climate change threatens global peace and stability. The Council debate reflected the growing convergence of foreign, environmental, development and security policy areas. Most recently, during their sittings in July 2015 and May 2016, the Security Council debated peace and security challenges faced by Small Island Developing States and challenges in the Sahel region, respectively.

Additionally, the G7 is on the forefront of putting climate-fragility risks on the global agenda. In 2015, the G7, under the German Presidency, commissioned the independent report “A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks” that identifies compound climate-fragility risks which pose serious threats to the stability of states and societies in the decades ahead.

The report was the starting point for an entire G7 process of climate action, leading to numerous other outreach events and dialogues in 2015 and 2016. In addition, a knowledge platform has been developed and a blog was established to monitor the latest developments and emerging thinking on climate change and resilience.  

In addition to the challenges of improving early warning systems, climate diplomacy itself can serve as a threat minimizer. International environmental and climate diplomacy, bilateral environmental cooperation, as well as environmental policy can promote dialogue and confidence building, thereby contributing to regional stability. Early action on the security risks of climate change requires a strong network of partners, including representatives from civil society and the private sector.

These new approaches for foreign policy go beyond the traditional realms of climate policy. Moving from risk analysis of climate-related threats to timely preventive action requires greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies.

Examples include: strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

adelphi and its partners formed an alliance with the German Federal Foreign Office and have played a central role in the process of analysing the international debates on climate diplomacy and security, while developing key narratives, contributing to awareness raising and capacity building efforts, and supporting international and regional dialogues on this topic around the world.

To read more about climate diplomacy, have a look at the booklet: Climate Diplomacy - Foreign Policy Responses to Climate Change (2017). Highlights include:

  • Climate diplomacy narratives – from cities to growth, water and global food security
  • Climate risks, diplomacy and resilience
  • Climate change and security at the UN level
  • G7 action on climate and fragility risks
  • Communicating climate diplomacy: interactive online resources and touring exhibition
  • The Climate Fund projects by the German Federal Foreign Office