Climate Diplomacy: between legal barriers and one-sided interests

This article explores the most prominent features of "climate diplomacy" aimed at increasing international coordination momentum to contain the negative effects of climate change; this coordination collides with legal barriers and is inevitably affected by political trends and economic interests. In addition, the article offers a future outlook on the implication of climate change on the global reality from a health, economic, and geopolitical perspective, examining whether the balance of power will be disrupted by these changes.

  • Publisher – STRATEGIECS
  • Release Date – Aug 13, 2020

*This is the fourth article in the series being published respectively in the “papers on the G7 table” file.

 As the earth's population was celebrating the new year, flames were rising from Australia's forests in the largest fires in the country's history. The fires destroyed more than 19 million hectares of land, 12.6 million of which were forest and forest trees; more than 1.25 billion animals died, burned or suffocated, some of them are rare species, according to estimates released by the World Wide Fund for Nature in January 2020.

Scientists agree that  rising temperatures caused by human-related global warming is the main cause of these natural disasters, which are not limited to a specific geographical or developmental scale, they; however, affect the whole world  with all its major and sub-ecosystems. According to estimates by NASA, the planet's temperature has risen by one degree Celsius since 1880, due to human activities. The latest update of atmospheric CO2 rates for May 2020 showed 414 parts per million “PPM”; a number close to that in the Pliocene Epoch 2.6 million years ago, when the Arctic summer temperature was 8 degrees higher than the current average.

This negative climate boom threatens catastrophic future repercussions unless environmental and climate change is curbed, therefore world leaders are meeting to discuss ways and means to reduce human interference disrupting the ecosystem. These efforts have resulted in establishing international agreements to reduce gas emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol Agreement adopted in 1997 and the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was ratified on April 22, 2016, by the largest number of countries joining an agreement in a single day with the signature of 175 world leaders.

These efforts are concentrated on the central goal of controlling the global warming rate of this century in the range of (1.5-2) °C compared to the pre-industrial thermal rate. Such a global goal cannot be achieved unless all nations, particularly industrial ones, join their efforts in implementing the conventions.

There is, therefore, a growing interest in the multilateral "Climate Diplomacy" that revived after Paris Agreement was announced. The Council of the European Union has set three objectives for this diplomacy: maintaining climate change as a strategic priority in diplomatic talks, supporting the implementation of Paris Agreement, and increasing efforts to address the imbalance between climate, natural resources, prosperity and migration.

Like any other international issue, official positions on "climate change" vary, although the environment embodies the unity of the current situation and destiny of all humanity, therefore, it shall not be subject to the polarization prevailing in other international issues. This discrepancy is illustrated by Washington's sudden withdrawal from Paris Agreement, and after a lengthy preface, the U.S. government formally notified the United Nations, depositary of the Convention, with its withdrawal from the agreement in November 2019. In a press release held also in November of the same year, U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, justified the withdrawal by "the unjust economic burden on American workers, businesses and taxpayers because of the Obligations of the United States of America under the Agreement."

Climate change has dominated the atmosphere of the 2019 G7 summit, coinciding with unprecedented fires in the Amazon forests known as the "world's lungs." These fires did not prevent U.S. President, Donald Trump, while attending the summit in Paris in late August, of continuing to question the seriousness of the environmental threat, and whether climate change can really be controlled by controlling human economic activities. In his response to a reporter's question, Trump indicated that he would not dispense with oil wealth for "dreams or windmills that are frankly not working well," he said.

According to the latest statements and follow-ups, with regard to the 2020 G7 summit, it seems that climate change will not be on the agenda of the summit, which will be determined by America by virtue of its rotating presidency of the Group's 2020 work, even though the industrialized countries are the main cause of the greenhouse gas emissions. A February 2016 study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace estimated that the G7 contributed nearly a quarter of the world's emissions.

Although this percentage fell from more than 50% in 1995, this decline does not necessarily reflect a reduction in G7 emissions, as it was the result of China and India being placed on the list of major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the mentioned study, the amount of emissions from China at the beginning of the second decade of this century was more than that of the G-7 countries.


Emission reduction measures require economically costly actions on the way of shifting to clean energy, and increasing taxes on certain industries and mining operations, such as oil and coal mining. Therefore, some businessmen and politicians, particularly populists, underestimate these procedures, under the pretext of scientific arguments by climate change skeptics and/or opponents. In the view of this Group, the future consequences of climate change are overestimated, and it is not only industrial human activity that is responsible for warming the Earth; for example, the solar cycle includes phases in which solar radiation increases, and the natural cycle of certain elements contributes to emissions that disrupt the environmental balance without any human intervention.

Theoretically, these practical arguments can be refuted. However, realistically, the fossil fuel industry is supported by well-established interest groups in international decision-making circles, and any serious move towards green energy will collide with these related groups not only with giant corporations but also with oil-dependent governments. President Donald Trump often alludes to economic imperatives as an engine of his environmental policies,

In one of his speeches on withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, he expressed his rejection to anything that stands in the way of boosting the U.S. economy and creating jobs for Americans, stressing that it was time to give priority to the United States over both: Paris and France. He criticized the agreement's imposition of financial and economic restrictions on his country, while it does not show such firmness towards China and India as being classified as developing countries that do not, under the Convention, entail financial obligations as developed countries do such as America.

Regarding the cost of the transition to a green economy, some reports show positive returns from this shift. In a September 2018 report, the World Economic and Climate Commission estimated that the transition to a low-carbon economy until 2030 would generate about $26 trillion in the global economy. In a report released in May 2018, the ILO also predicted that 24 million new jobs would be added to the labour market in the green economy if the Paris Agreement member states implemented their commitments.

No doubt, these figures will be negatively affected by the repercussions of the “Corona” crisis, it is worth-mentioning that the crisis indicates an urgent need to rephrase the logic of managing the entire economy, which can be considered as an opportunity to take "new" actions that consistent with environment-friendly standards. In July 2020, French Minister of economy, Bruno Le Maire, revealed that €30 billion of the €100 billion approved under the recovery plan would be allocated to France’s environmental transition. Moreover, he promised that all recovery decisions would “encourage a new growth model based on carbon reduction, energy saving and innovation in environmental protection.

At a time when the world is facing a pandemic targeting the human’s respiratory system, decision makers and top business leaders must fight to reduce air pollution.

A fact sheet presented by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that air pollution caused more than 7 million premature deaths, concentrated in areas where air quality did not conform to WHO standards. About 91% of the world's population is in these regions.

In addition to health imperatives, any constructive effort towards environmental sustainability will gradually reduce natural disasters, and their enormous human and economic costs. According to results published by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in October 2018, the economic losses of climate-related disasters between 1998 and 2017 amounted to nearly $2.3 trillion, and 91% of the 7,255 major global disasters in that period were classified as climate-related disasters, such as hurricanes and droughts. The report noted that the poorest countries suffer from the consequences of these disasters, given their fragile infrastructure and limited capacity to respond to crises.

Climate change mortality rates are expected to rise until 2100, with proportions varying across most climatic and geographical regions. According to a study released by the Social Science Network in August 2018, assuming that the temperature would rise to a range of (3.2-5.4°)C, large parts of the African continent and the Middle East would record the highest climate-related mortality rates. The study puts most Middle Eastern countries on the orange threat list with forecasts of (1-350) climate-related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the study also predicts that the African equatorial regions will record (351-888) deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

According to the study, the good news is this percentage will decline in the future in some extremely cold regions, such as Russia, Northern Europe and Canada, as these areas with extreme climate are currently recording deaths related to extreme climate, and as global temperatures rise, the number of climate-related deaths will decline.

Similarly, this disparity also appears in the GDP of the various regions that is affected by climate change. Low-income regions such as Africa and the Middle East will be the hardest hit, despite their limited contribution to gas emissions compared to industrialized countries.


The Geopolitical aspect of Climate Change

In its semi-annual forecast for the year 2019, The Strategiecs Research Center published an analysis of an upcoming Cold War in the Arctic Circle. The analysis was based on an estimation of the underlying natural resources in the region, which has a geostrategic location north of three continents: Asia, Europe and America. Some climate models predict that glaciers will completely recede in the summer months from the Arctic Ocean by 2030, creating a navigation path that will save time and energy for cargo goods across Asia, Europe and North America.

Most Western estimates agree that Russia possesses military superiority in this "neglected" part of the world “so far”. For example, its arsenal has icebreakers, some are nuclear, and polar military equipment, not to mention constructing military bases there, claiming ownership of large parts of the Arctic.

This phase is witnessing the in-depth coordination between China and Russia in this region, where China plans to take advantage of Russian geography to build a polar silk road and gain a polar foothold through cooperation in the domains of sustainable development and civil services. China's interest in the polar regions is evidenced by the vital information document (White Paper) entitled "China's Polar Policy” published by the Information Office of China's State Council in January 2018.

Experts warn against leaving the North Pole to be a promising arena for Sino-Russian joint influence. A study published in the fall of 2019 by a Journal of the University of the Marines called for creating an "American Polar Axis," strategic partnerships with countries bordering the Arctic, improving the polar military capabilities of the U.S. military and its allies, and strengthening infrastructure projects in polar regions that currently lack U.S. presence.

Furthermore, the study also criticized the lack of U.S. interest in the North and South Poles because of Washington's preoccupation with issues and interests in both Asia and Europe. Moscow and Beijing are, therefore, expanding into the polar regions, which are likely to be the main gateway to the world economy in the medium/long term.

These changes in the international relations and geopolitical calculations are the result of the global warming that has warmed the poles, paving the way for further ice melting and exposing vast areas that are rich in location and wealth.

In short, in the face of the "globalization" of the climate change repercussions, all humanity faces a common challenge that requires us to carry out our duties as members of the human family. Whether or not the forthcoming G-7 summit discusses the issue of climate change, the climate threat will remain strongly perched in all global forums. It is not surprising that the Journal of Atomic Scientists of the University of Chicago ranks the dangers of climate change as well as the dangers of nuclear war as one of the most dangerous threats to humanity. In the most recent update of the publication in January 2020, scientists tuned the 1947 symbolic "Doomsday Hour" to 100 seconds just before 12:00 a.m., the moment when the human civilization is gone and the world ends, according to the publication.




Policy Analysis Team