Paris 2015: as climate advocate, this meant and means for me the upcoming World Climate Conference in December. And this hasn’t changed, even as a result of the horrific terror attacks in Paris a few weeks ago. On the contrary, the outcomes of the approaching conference can make a major contribution to stomping out the breeding grounds for these kinds of attacks.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, there were brief discussions on whether to cancel or postpone the conference. The annual conference, at which national leaders and diplomats from every country come together under incredibly tight security conditions, will however still take place as planned from 30 November to 11 December in Paris.
Climate conferences are today amongst the few occasions when politicians and diplomats from all over the world come together to work on a common solution to a global problem. The new Paris treaty is intended to commit all governments to efforts to mitigate climate change, substantially reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and assist countries in making preparations for adapting to unavoidable climate change and in turn warding off the most severe harm from drought, floods and severe hunger.
The Paris summit can be a signal of collective climate politics – in terms of security policy, it could be no less than a comprehensive peace treaty.
Ideally, this agreement can be a key driver of international cooperation, setting a global example of fairness and solidarity. It can also provide a major contribution to international security. Here, Syria is one of the best examples of how environmental change can provoke political unrest and armed conflicts.
Between 2006 and 2011, Syria was faced with heavy drought, leading to massive rural flight to Syria’s cities. This was followed by the total failure of the government to respond adequately to the humanitarian crisis, escalating the already established discontent with the Assad regime.
Climate change thus already in the recent past reached a level of impact at which it can influence politics and inflame or aggravate conflicts. This is true above all in weak or unstable states, i.e. countries like Syria or Pakistan which are also central to discussions on international terrorism. In these countries, the state can often not provide sufficient nutrition, access to water or adequate healthcare. If climate change continues to act as an intensifier in the future, these states will be threatened with overload and, eventually, with collapse.
This is the reason that climate policy is always a key part of foreign and security policy, and at the same time a good example of one of many genuinely sustainable strategies which can be used to tackle the structural causes of terrorism. In the long term, collective international efforts promise a great deal more than committing solely to a military response.
The Paris summit is intended to send a powerful core signal about the seriousness of collective efforts to combat climate change, being in terms of security policy no less than a comprehensive peace treaty; a treaty whose positive impacts will nevertheless take years to unfold, and even then only when it commits all countries to the framework of the same solution.
Syria is one of the best examples of how climate change can inflame political disquiet and armed conflicts.
The chances for a successful summit in Paris don’t look all that bad. The international community has for years been working on embedding climate action in individual countries and on identifying ways to contribute to a global approach to the problem. This is just as true for weak states or currently unstable states, which sometimes have major problems putting climate projects in place or securing lasting international support.
This year, I’ve taken part in climate projects in Tunis, Cairo, Beirut and Islamabad. Security warnings were ubiquitous and all of these countries suffer from regular terror attacks. At the same time, there was a spirit of optimism all around, as well as the conviction that taking action on the climate and expanding renewable energies can help to improve the current local situations and, for example, also create jobs.
In Islamabad, for instance, I accompanied provincial officials who wanted to know how they could best submit their ideas for tackling climate change to the Green Climate Fund. This fund was set up to allocate major portions of future resources for tackling climate change. These countries don’t just want to be a part of global efforts to combat climate change; above all, they want to avoid climate change limiting even further their desires for peace and security.
It is not only these countries which are hoping for a successful coming together in Paris. Not all countries are able to (or should) themselves go to Paris, but both government officials and members of civil society can this December create something in Paris which the recent terrorist attacks wanted to destroy: a global gathering of solutions and creative, future-orientated ideas which can help to dismantle the structural breeding grounds for poverty, chaos and terror, and which makes use of virtues like solidarity and cooperation at a global level. If the Paris summit turns out to be a success, this could have an even more sustainable impact than many of the announcements that were made public in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
This article originally appeared in German on Motherboard.
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