The explosion of international conferences contributed to the growing multilateral diplomatic exchanges in the twentieth century; the scale and size of these conferences vary from a few states focusing on aviation traffic and control to major large-scale permanent conferences such as those held by the United Nations. Multilateral diplomacy brings members from various states together through conferences to commit to the resolution of often urgent international problems such as issues on global climate; in fact, environmental issues have continued to move up the international agenda since the mid-eighties.1 No one will contest that Mother Nature has no boundary when it comes to stormwater flooding, hurricanes, or any other catastrophic events attributed to global warming we have been experiencing on earth. The question remains on whether or not our world leaders could collaborate and find solutions to the problems, or to politicize the issues to serve their political agenda. There is no doubt that multilateral diplomacy can be a huge topic of study on its own, so is the topic on climate change. My recent paper explored the impacts of multilateral and plurilateral efforts within multilateralism, as well as the political impacts on the multilateral efforts on climate change which referenced mainly on “Modern Diplomacy,” by R.P. Barston. I concluded that, despite the challenges and limitations of multilateralism on climate change, multilateral actions are essential even if that may lead to multiple piecemeal efforts. The following is an excerpt from my paper pertaining to the multilateral actions on climate change.
The international scientific community has long recognized the serious environmental problems associated with the ozone layer and its depletion, along with environmental impacts as a result of global warming; the issues often begged the question of how international leaders will take the responsibility to address those issues and to provide necessary assistance to developing countries. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development at the Rio Summit in 1992, had certainly brought attention to the environmental issues and given the issues heightened urgency.2 The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been leading the core efforts on climate change; through the passage of time, many international institutions and organizations also became involved in the efforts.3 UNFCCC has been criticized for showing limited progress; having said that, there are other international and local efforts outside UNFCCC in addressing this global issue. Despite the initial hope to establish one single international agreement, the complexity and the scale of the environmental problems, the frustration experienced by the international communities along with the urgent need to take action in many states facing regional issues had all given way to multiple separate agreements and efforts.4 One will argue perhaps those individual targeted and incremental efforts, although in piecemeal, may potentially be building toward a stronger global response. A global organization such as the United Nations with its large number of member states along with their incompatible national agendas, cultural and political differences, and power conflict among members making multilateral diplomatic action very challenging.5 It is not difficult to see, given the complexity of world issues and the broad spectrum of issues relating to climate change, achieving international agreement on any single aspect can be challenging if not limited. Politics also impacts, often adversely, on environmental policies or efforts outside that of UNFCCC.
For instance, should the Paris agreement be the only one effort the international communities relied on to govern climate change, the recent turn of events with the U.S. President Donald Trump vowing to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement could have paralyzed all existing efforts. As it stands, his announcement has already hampered the efforts under the previous administration. U.S. previous commitment to the Green Climate Fund has been reduced from $3 billion to $1 billion, delegates participating in multilateral efforts went from seventy-nine people to twenty-nine, and none of which had any expertise on climate and environmentally related issues. To further remove the U.S. from its commitment to climate change, President Trump promoted the fossil fuel industry as a solution to climate change. He contested that tapping this natural source of energy will increase prosperity to America and developing nations. President Trump’s decision was seen by many as a political move with the intent to promote the U.S. economy on non-renewable energy.6
At home, in response to the President’s action, an initiative called “America’s Pledge” enlisted 20 states, 110 cities, and 1,400 businesses working toward reducing their carbon emissions, regardless of the federal government’s direction. But there is the fear that it will not be possible to fulfill the Paris goals to reduce emissions by 2025 without the U.S. leadership.7 Albeit the concerns, many subnational leaders including governors, mayors, tribal councils, institutions and organization leaders, and environmentalists formed a coalition to uphold the U.S. part of the Paris accord.8 Overseas, President Trump’s withdrawal certainly undermined the Paris agreement and aggravates international climate cooperation; the withdrawal reduces other countries’ emission space and raises their emission costs; furthermore, cutting U.S. climate aid will make it more difficult for developing countries to mitigate and to address environmental degradation as a result of climate change.9
Even the most powerful states cannot address issues as complex as climate change in isolation. Since environmental issues can only be addressed effectively through international cooperation and collaboration, multilateral diplomacy comes into place to tackle this global issue.10 The increasing intensity of climate change and its associated environmental problems require major international cooperation and collaboration due to the complexity and the cross-boundary nature of the issues. However, multilateralism requires international communities to follow international rules, norms, and principles, and respect international institutions and regimes. In multilateralism, the focus must be on the greater public good, and that rules must be seen to apply to all states, including the powerful states. Multilateralism based largely on consensus rule, parties in negotiations often attempted to create wider consensus by focusing on the apparent areas of agreement; this often resulted in not being able to address areas of disagreement. However, in our world that is much globalized, interdependent and highly technologically connected, international relations will continue to rely on multilateralism. Among other diverse issues crossing international boundaries, climate change and its related environmental issues are just one aspect of why interdependency exists. Factors contributing to the failure in many multilateral efforts to combat climate change are complex; differing levels of representation, loss of momentum, deadlock, and the increasing pluralism that fragmented the efforts are all some of these contributing factors.11 Having said that, I concluded in my paper that despite the challenges and limitations of multilateralism on climate change, multilateral actions are essential even if that may lead to multiple piecemeal efforts. Despite that there is no world government to monitor all the multilateral agreements, multilateralism continues to allow for open dialogues between states and to provide a coercive form of international collaboration.
1 ,2Barston, R.P. Modern Diplomacy. 3rd. Ed. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2006.
3Bodansky, Daniel. Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond The UNFCCC. Arlington, Virginia: Center For Climate and Energy Solutions, 2011.
34Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Environment – Climate Change. https://www.mfa.gr/en/foreign-policy/global-issues/environment-climate-change.html
5Leguey-Feilleux, Jean-Robert. The Dynamics of Diplomacy. Boulder, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009.
6Worth, Katie. There’s a deep divide over Trump climate policy on display at UN talks. https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-11-14/theres-deep-divide-over-trump-climate-policy-display-un-talks
7Sneed, Annie. Global Climate Meeting Will Forge Ahead, Despite Trump’s Contempt – Counties will map out how to meet their carbon-reduction pledges; U.S. governors and mayors will set up
8ScienceDirect. U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: Reasons, impacts, and China’s response.https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/608F9DD42CB71B0E7DC929196B6CA6C60CD834814892E858DB71302D20AA9053E91BB9E7A10F89CC7DC3FE55281435B8
10Thakur, Ramesh. The United Nations in Global Governance: Rebalancing Organized Multilateralism for Current and Future Challenges. http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/65/initiatives/GlobalGovernance/Thakur_GA_Thematic_Debate_on_UN_in_GG.pdf
11 Barston, ibid.