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Climate Diplomacy beyond 2015: Catalyzing the Climate Economy

Foreign policy has had an important role to play in supporting international climate negotiations by reaching out to partner countries bilaterally and making the case for more ambitious climate action. A global climate agreement this December will be a game changer for climate diplomacy. However, this does not mean that climate diplomats can lean back afterwards – judging by the INDCs, we will need to do more than what the agreement in Paris is likely to achieve. Diplomats will have to shift their focus, from working towards an ambitious, comprehensive, legally binding climate agreement to the needs beyond it. And there are plenty. Catalyzing the climate economy will be at the heart of it: more than ever, after COP21, it can serve as a much-needed accelerator for a climate-friendly trajectory.

For too long, we’ve discussed how to share the burden of saving the planet. But in fact, climate action presents a huge business opportunity and, therefore, the opportunity to grow the economy sustainably. That is to say: it is in every nation’s individual interest to pursue climate-compatible development pathways. The New Climate Economy report shows that up to 90% of climate actions required to stay below 2° warming are compatible with economic development and broadly shared improvements in living standards. Many of these investments are profitable even without considering their benefits for the climate. For example, the health benefits of reducing air pollution in cities by shifting from cars to buses and bicycles are huge.

The key argument, therefore, that diplomats will have to convey more strongly than ever before is: if we don’t put an adequate price on carbon, we are effectively subsidizing (and locking in) the use of fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive resources and processes – at great cost to human lives, the environment, and the economy. Comparing the costs and all benefits shows: climate action is an imperative because it makes economic sense.

Thinking about climate and economy together will also help address climate-fragility risks, both directly and indirectly, as laid out in the integrated resilience agenda put forward by the report “A New Climate for Peace”. There is a direct link, because it will catalyze investments with strong synergies for reducing risk factors such as volatile food provision, local resource competition, and insecure livelihoods. And it indirectly addresses these risks by driving climate change mitigation in the first place.

Of course, there are reasons why implementation is lagging behind. A lot of them pertain to the political economy, a finding supported by research from Lord Stern’s institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. These include some benefits shifting between groups, or hesitations to invest without credible long-term political signals.

We will need to highlight all of these opportunities, not only in the narrow environmental and climate discourse, but much more broadly – be it in economic ministries, in line ministries e.g. for transport, energy or land use, or of course in the business community. With their cross-sectoral convening power and bilateral relations, diplomats can stimulate feeding these opportunities into these discourses. To do so, they can share examples of good practice from across the globe, and provide lessons learnt from less effective policies. And finally, they can scope and facilitate bilateral cooperative actions – such as improving the climate for green investments or promoting joint research and innovation. Intensifying these efforts will help build momentum to drive the climate economy and pave the way for increasing ambition in a periodic review mechanism of the climate agreement.