The Perils Of Climate Diplomacy

US president Donald Trump, known for climate change denial, has taken the anti-climate change discourse to a whole new level by appointing a bunch of industry-backed fanatic scientists in White House to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change that greenhouse gas emissions are helping drive global warming. Well, this is plain evil. 

We all know climate change is real and we have enough unequivocal scientific evidence to blame anthropogenic activities. Now when it was time for a meaningful solution, Trump has started to reassess the climate change and counter the earlier conclusions of the scientific community. Earlier, Trump had pledged to withdraw the US from Paris Agreement but according to the rules he will have to wait till November 4, 2019 to give a notice of withdrawal which would then come into effect after one year of the notice, which is November 4, 2020- only after the next presidential election. 

Unlike the urgency the world showed towards nuclear weapons, there is very little we have done on climate change even though every new finding on climate change by the scientific community doesn’t seem less than a nuclear bomb. It is all because politicians tend to consider their political fortunes and re-elections before taking any action. For most of us climate change is a moral issue but for corporate lobbies and fossil fuel industry it is a matter of profit and greed. Since the latter fund the governments and donate towards political campaigns, there is little change to expect from the political class on the issue.   

The recently released special report Global Warming of 1.5°C  by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes that risks arising from warming of +1.5°C above pre-industrial levels pose challenges to human security, affecting development, food and water supplies, health, infrastructure, and livelihoods across many parts of the world. It has fixed to limit the global warming to +1.5°C which according to the report will require a rapid reduction in GHG emissions- global emissions must decrease by 45% by 2030 (as compared to 2010 levels).  But as per Climate Action Tracker, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) put forward by countries in connection with Paris Agreement will at best limit temperature increase to +2.7°C. Unless INDCs are significantly enhanced in future, the Paris Agreement will not cap global warming to +2°C, let alone +1.5°C. 


Since climate and GHGs don’t recognize national boundaries, it was necessary to integrate it with the management of international relations and foreign policy. Earth’s environment acquired salience as an issue of international concern for the first time at UN Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm in 1972. It brought environmental issues into the ambit of international diplomacy and led to gradually enhanced global environmental co-operation. The Conference led to the establishment of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), which in 1982 convened in Nairobi a ‘UNEP Session of a Special Character: Ten Years after Stockholm’. It recognized that most global environmental challenges remained inadequately addressed and environmental threats had grown, including from acid rain, air, soil and water pollution, desertification and deforestation, ozone layer depletion. As fallout of the Special Session, the UN Secretary-General appointed the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1983 which released a report ‘Our Common Future’ in 1987 and sought to balance human and environmental well-being and reconcile economic development with environmental protection. It promoted the concept of “sustainable development”, which it defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition viewed environment and development through the prism of “needs”, in particular those of the world’s poor, and highlighted the notion of inter-generational equity. 

By the time the UN Conference on Environment and Development was convened at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, one could not talk of the environment without referring in the same breath to development. That Summit adopted the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21, which reinforced the importance of finding ways to generate economic growth and address the overriding priority of development for developing countries and doing so without hurting the environment. 

Two important legal instruments, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity, were also opened for signature at Rio. Seeking to address climate change, the world community agreed at the Rio Summit in 1992 on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities of its ratifying states. In negotiations leading to its adoption, developing countries led by India consistently highlighted equity, historical responsibility and per capita emissions as the basis for a differentiated approach to the collective arrangements being considered. 

As developed countries have been responsible historically for GHG emissions and remain their main emitters on a per capita basis, the primary responsibility devolves on them to address the problem, especially since they also have the financial resources and technological capacities to do so. As part of international cooperation, developed countries also need to provide new and additional financial resources and technological cooperation on preferential terms to developing countries to enable them to more effectively respond to climate change. In contrast, developing countries cannot accept binding mitigation commitments for now, though they could consider doing so provided incremental costs are met by the developed world. Indeed, the UNFCCC recognized that developing countries cannot be required to divert scarce resources from their overriding priorities of poverty eradication and economic development. So the climate change negotiations boil down to how the world addresses environmental concerns and shares the costs and benefits of enhanced environmental protection. Such negotiations seek to work out an international consensus on (1) who is causing the problem and therefore who is responsible for climate change, both historically and currently (2) what needs to be done to tackle the problem; and (3) who should bear the main burden for corrective action between wealthy, technologically advanced, industrialized nations and not so well off developing countries. 

Though it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and prevent some of the worst-case scenarios but the way our governments are still discussing how the world ended up in the global warming in the first place which has made the problem too complex to address, there is no hope. Climate change is one of the most neglected issues today. By ignoring the issue, we are taking our planet to a point from where the recovery will be impossible. It is also discrimination on the basis of date of birth because we’re condemning the younger generation and the future generations to a planet that will be beyond fixing. There is an urgent need to act now or we will be risking the entire human civilization. 

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