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Climate diplomacy is the process of advocating for actions to respond to climate change in diplomatic dialogues, public diplomacy, and policy instruments, and of contributing to public awareness about climate actions needed to effect change. What role does climate diplomacy play in ensuring effective climate actions around the globe?
From my perspective, it remains clear that countries’ implementation of climate actions on the ground cannot be achieved without multilateral climate diplomacy. This is despite the challenges encountered by diplomacy in climate change negotiations over the last two decades.
The long journey of climate diplomacy
Since 1992, climate diplomacy has worked to transform the world’s response to climate action on the ground. Beginning with the 1992 negotiations which led to adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), climate diplomacy has laid a global foundation of climate decisions to effect needed change. It has also played a critical role in establishing the base for climate finance. The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 and ratified in 2005, and other climate change initiatives and climate financing instruments have been negotiated and implemented in various UNFCCC Conferences of Parties (COPs), including the Copenhagen Accord (2009) and Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2011), all leading to the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement, unanimously endorsed by the international community, and activation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
More talk than action?
However, despite these important achievements, there is some concern that climate diplomacy generates more talk than action and that its impact is still not visible, while the negative impact of climate change continues to accelerate. Is climate diplomacy too slow to deliver on its promises? For Africa in particular, is climate diplomacy still relevant, in the context of exacerbation of climate impacts on the continent? What can be done to accelerate the pace of climate actions and achieve the aspirations of the Paris Agreement?With the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, one could think that climate diplomacy had delivered on its promises, and that the international community had finally agreed on a common goal to collectively take action against climate change. But in fact, the adoption of the Paris Agreement was the end result of a long and difficult process which faced significant obstacles along the way. In 2005, for instance, the US decided not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol; although ultimately the Protocol was ratified thanks to Russia, it delivered mixed outcomes because the two major polluters (US and China) were not involved. At the 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen, negotiators faced what was viewed as a great climate diplomacy failure when major economies and polluters, including the US, delayed adoption of a binding global agreement because of competing interests. Today, the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement highlights once again the weaknesses of climate diplomacy and the fragility of multilateralism. One can question the relevance of climate diplomacy if one country, due to leadership change, can withdraw from an agreement that took years to come to fruition.
The split between developed and developing countries has always been an obstacle in climate diplomacy, given the diversity and divergence of views of countries involved. Climate diplomacy still remains polarized as a result of diverging ideological views held by Parties, even within country groups; for instance, the developing country groups represented by the G77+China Group and the Least Developed Country Group sometimes do not share common views in the climate negotiations.
Despite these challenges, however, it remains clear that climate actions cannot be achieved without multilateralism. Though the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement, all other countries remain committed and seek to explore any opportunity to build new and stronger economies, taking advantage of the development of clean technologies. It is the diplomatically negotiated base which has laid the foundation for common agreement and has opened the door to the possibility of effective climate action.
What role does Africa play in climate diplomacy?
Africa has played a critical role in the climate diplomacy space. With Africa speaking in one voice in the climate negotiations, the continent has been the first to develop a common continental position on climate change, with African Leaders playing a critical collective role in safeguarding Africa’s interests. The establishment of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) backed by the African Ministers responsible for environment under the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), was an important step in creating Africa’s political momentum on climate diplomacy. With technical support from the African Group of Negotiators, Africa’s role in the climate negotiating process has been crucial, leading to adoption first of the 2011 Durban Enhanced Platform and later of the Paris Agreement, both reflecting Africa’s priorities. Africa has even been singled out in the Paris Agreement for its potential to harness its great renewable energy potential. The launch by African Leaders of two flagship climate change initiatives – the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative and the Africa Adaptation Initiative – was a clear move forward. The African summit of heads of States convened by the King of Morocco at COP22 last year provided an opportunity to further strengthen Africa’s priorities through climate diplomacy.
Is the African Development Bank a major player in climate diplomacy?
As an inter-governmental organization, the African Development Bank (AfDB) sits at COPs as an Observer and does not take part in the negotiations, which are conducted by the countries which are Parties to the Convention. Nevertheless, the Bank has played a role in continuously supporting Africa’s efforts in the climate change negotiations. By supporting the African negotiating bodies (CAHOSCC, AMCEN and AGN), and by supporting Africa speaking in one voice, the Bank has displayed a leadership role in supporting Africa’s positions in the negotiations.
With the adoption of the Paris Agreement and the articulation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), one can say that climate diplomacy is on the right track. Still, a lot needs to be done, as the success of NDCs will depend on the delivery of adequate means of implementation, including climate finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity building. With 85% of African NDC commitments being conditional to external support, it is clear that the provision of means of support is key for Africa. It is expected that the awareness raised over the recent years by climate diplomacy will keep the momentum going, and with the growing climate business being observed all over the world, we believe that there are real promises on delivering on the Paris Agreement goals, particularly in Africa where the impacts of climate change result in huge public displacement of limited national budgets to address climate change, and where development and climate change are two sides of the same coin.