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A blueprint for 2020 and beyond? Climate diplomacy according to German foreign policy

Reichstag building, Berlin

There are probably hundreds of climate security studies out there to assess the risks that climate change poses to security and potential foreign policy responses for addressing them. There are not too many government strategy papers out there, defining what linking climate change and foreign policy actually means. One of the most in-depth approaches to date was the European Commission’ work back in 2008 and 2011 to examine the relevance of climate change for security and to outline how climate diplomacy could be further strengthened.

However, in December 2019, the German Federal Foreign Office produced a “Climate Diplomacy Report” outlining different elements that can and should characterise climate-related foreign policy. In light of the international climate negotiations having stalling once more at COP26 in Madrid, it is worth reading the introductory text that highlights why diplomats should pay more attention to the climate crisis. It states that foreign policy needs: “[..] to support other countries and international organisations in dealing with the impact of climate change and in the transformation towards a climate-neutral economy, thus injecting impetus into the entire spectrum of our bilateral and multilateral relations.”

This framing of the issue not only highlights the goals of the Paris Agreement; it pushes supporting other countries’ transformations towards carbon neutrality to the forefront of activities to promote a preventive climate diplomacy. This is the first of six areas described in the report – the others being more conventional topics related to climate and security, such as stabilisation, post-conflict peacebuilding and humanitarian assistance, along with the need to deal with the geopolitical shifts that will emerge due to both climate change and climate policy.

Reading through the report, three main observations come to mind:

  1. Climate foreign policy is more than climate security policy: The report stresses that foreign policy needs to protect the legacy of the Paris Agreement by guiding the great transformation process and by pushing for renewed momentum in 2020. It highlights the window of opportunity to strive for more ambitious climate action this year, especially during the German EU Presidency. In addition, it maintains that bilateral and multilateral contacts should be used to enter into a debate with major countries (i.e.: major emitters) that are taking an increasingly critical stance on the climate issue. What is remarkable is the strong message on coal phase-out. Although the words are not used explicitly, the report stresses that diplomatic efforts should focus on the “need to upgrade existing infrastructure, including early decommissioning of existing infrastructure”.
  2. Where is adaptation support in the ‘year of adaptation’? The 2019 New York Climate Summit saw the announcement of a Year of Action on adaptation, with a high-level conference tentatively scheduled for October 2020. In addition, the report at no point explicitly mentions the strengthening of resilience, despite this being an important objective for climate diplomacy. The report does underline the importance of strengthening early-warning capacities and fostering climate policy implementation on the ground – also in conflict-prone regions – and this will, of course, contribute to improving adaptive capacities. However, additional recognition of the complex processes linked to conflict-sensitive adaptation would be helpful to avoid a disconnect with other relevant processes in the international climate policy landscape.
  3. Let’s start a conservation on financing climate diplomacy action. Financing is not a major focus of the climate diplomacy report, despite several relevant links being made. German climate foreign policy is funding around 100 projects per year and it is involved in the development of pioneering instruments such as forecast-based financing for risk financing to support humanitarian assistance. Finally, the report highlights an important element in a comprehensive climate diplomacy approach by any EU Member State – the future design of the EU’s 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and the need implement its horizontal climate target of at least 25 percent. In this context, the report also draws attention to the important role of trade and economic relations in guiding a climate-friendly transformation process. Here in fact are the major entry points for an ambitious foreign climate policy – and it will be worth tracking progress here, as well as in the other six fields of action of climate diplomacy.