Foreign policy has had an important role to play in supporting international climate negotiations by reaching out to partner countries bilaterally and making the case for more ambitious climate action. A global climate agreement this December will be a game changer for climate diplomacy. However, this does not mean that climate diplomats can lean back afterwards – judging by the INDCs, we will need to do more than what the agreement in Paris is likely to achieve. Diplomats will have to shift their focus, from working towards an ambitious, comprehensive, legally binding climate agreement to the needs beyond it. And there are plenty. Catalyzing the climate economy will be at the heart of it: more than ever, after COP21, it can serve as a much-needed accelerator for a climate-friendly trajectory.
For too long, we’ve discussed how to share the burden of saving the planet. But in fact, climate action presents a huge business opportunity and, therefore, the opportunity to grow the economy sustainably. That is to say: it is in every nation’s individual interest to pursue climate-compatible development pathways. The New Climate Economy report shows that up to 90% of climate actions required to stay below 2° warming are compatible with economic development and broadly shared improvements in living standards. Many of these investments are profitable even without considering their benefits for the climate. For example, the health benefits of reducing air pollution in cities by shifting from cars to buses and bicycles are huge.
The key argument, therefore, that diplomats will have to convey more strongly than ever before is: if we don’t put an adequate price on carbon, we are effectively subsidizing (and locking in) the use of fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive resources and processes – at great cost to human lives, the environment, and the economy. Comparing the costs and all benefits shows: climate action is an imperative because it makes economic sense.
Thinking about climate and economy together will also help address climate-fragility risks, both directly and indirectly, as laid out in the integrated resilience agenda put forward by the report “A New Climate for Peace”. There is a direct link, because it will catalyze investments with strong synergies for reducing risk factors such as volatile food provision, local resource competition, and insecure livelihoods. And it indirectly addresses these risks by driving climate change mitigation in the first place.
Of course, there are reasons why implementation is lagging behind. A lot of them pertain to the political economy, a finding supported by research from Lord Stern’s institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. These include some benefits shifting between groups, or hesitations to invest without credible long-term political signals.
We will need to highlight all of these opportunities, not only in the narrow environmental and climate discourse, but much more broadly – be it in economic ministries, in line ministries e.g. for transport, energy or land use, or of course in the business community. With their cross-sectoral convening power and bilateral relations, diplomats can stimulate feeding these opportunities into these discourses. To do so, they can share examples of good practice from across the globe, and provide lessons learnt from less effective policies. And finally, they can scope and facilitate bilateral cooperative actions – such as improving the climate for green investments or promoting joint research and innovation. Intensifying these efforts will help build momentum to drive the climate economy and pave the way for increasing ambition in a periodic review mechanism of the climate agreement.
The European Green Deal has made the environment and climate change the focus of EU action. Indeed, climate change impacts are already increasing the pressure on states and societies; however, it is not yet clear how the EU can engage on climate security and environmental peacemaking. In this light, and in the run-up to the German EU Council Presidency, adelphi and its partners are organising a roundtable series on “Climate, environment, peace: Priorities for EU external action in the decade ahead”.
In January 2020, the German Federal Foreign Office launched Green Central Asia, a regional initiative on climate and security in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The aim of the initiative is to support a dialogue in the region on climate change and associated risks in order to foster regional integration between the six countries involved.
Climate change will shift key coordinates of foreign policy in the coming years and decades. Even now, climate policy is more than just environment policy; it has long since arrived at the centre of foreign policy. The German Foreign Office recently released a report on climate diplomacy recognizing the biggest challenges to security posed by climate change and highlighting fields of action for strengthening international climate diplomacy.
A high-level ministerial conference in Berlin is looking at the impact of climate change on regional security in Central Asia. The aim is to foster stronger regional cooperation, improve the exchange of information and form connections with academia and civil society.