Multilateralism on Climate Change

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Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, 

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. 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.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.

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

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.

9Sneed, ibid.

10Thakur, Ramesh. The United Nations in Global Governance: Rebalancing Organized Multilateralism for Current and Future Challenges.

11 Barston, ibid.



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6 Responses

  1. Dear Louisa,

    thank you for your invested time and perspective. Much can and has been said regarding this topic. I would like to draw our attention to some very basic points. First, I would like to confirm that the topic of ‘climate change’ is a very popular one, and that lots of conferences are offered on a global level and reaching out for a global community of attendees. Here, we face a very odd first point, namely that climate change conferences are held, while their attendence requires an extensive CO2-Emission. In order to counter CO2-Emission, I introduced the WMO Round Table Online Conferences last year with the purpose to connect people, to minimize travel expenses, AND to avoid CO2-Emission. The basic question obviously remains: When we can change, why can’t others follow us?

    Another part that seems to be totally ignored is, that the climate always changed. It is not yet the nature of our planet to offer a constant climate. Maybe this will take place in billions of years, when the magma core does not exist anymore. In the meanwhile, our planet offers lots of activity, and these activities cause many phenomena, such as earthquakes, Tsunamis, iceages, etc. So, based on the fact that our planet faced iceages in the past, and that our polluting habits may make a climate change even faster, we still have to accept that the climate obviously never remained the same. And now, we should ask ourselves honestly, what is truly our concern regarding the climate change. Do we really care about the planet, or do we care about the fact that main parts of our living environment will possibly turn into deserts and icefields? What would accordingly mean, that there will be less place for us to live in a comfortable way, and that we might need to migrate to areas that were, so far, out of the range of our interest.

    And finally, I ask myself how come that we all talk about climate change and CO2-Emssion, while it seems that we forgot about the much broader and more complex topic of environmental pollution in general? How come, that many governments sold plastic bottels to developing countries for over decades, while witnessing that these ended up in the oceans? How come that our politicions are not personally responsible for their decision-making? And how come that we still look for global solutions, when it is obvious that the prevention of environmental polution starts with each of us, and not with contracts and decissions taken by the same politicians who agreed on the polution of our planet.

    Similar and much more questions remain: Why can’t we drive velomobiles and bikes in our cities? Why does nobody talk about the possibility to run electiric cars without cobalt and lithium batteries? Why are all our drugstore items bottled in plastic? … The answer remains: All this takes place because it is more economic for the producer, and our governments define our wealth based on the annual turnover of our states.

    Seriously worried, I shall close this reflection with the words I often use: You are the change, as there is not change without you.

    Best regards, Daniel Erdmann

  2. Dear Louisa and Daniel,

    I have read the above article which I find somewhat optimistic. There is plenty of activity going on to address serious challenges.

    When I was in secondary school I remember learning that we were in a small ice age that was giving way for a warmer period of time on the globe. Then the discussion on the ozone layer was frightening and producers responded and changed chemicals for instance in coolers and the task seemed to succeed – the ozone layer healed.

    Now personally I take the discussion on Global warming as a simplification for effect. There are many issues at play. For sure we seriously need to pay attention to the environment.
    Previously economic theory even promoted war as means for economic growth. Nowadays many economists state that war has become very expensive and does not promote economic growth. The old cold hearted paradigm was to ruin things with war to build them up again by that promoting investment and consumption after destruction. Now, the dangers of wars have become ever greater with more horrendous weapons. With negative interest rates current in many countries and unbelievable amounts of public debt revamping investment and consumption through the ideology of Global warming seems a much more sensible tool for a paradigm shift – forcing reinvestment in new technologies and increased consumption than a world war.
    Again personally I am thinking that how we respond to a warmer climate has to do with why it is getting warmer. If as some fringe views claim Co2 emission has less to do with it than sun activity and natural cycles as moving from a small ice age unto a warmer period putting up barriers were flooding Is likely to happen is perhaps more important than fighting Co2 which is nutrition for plants. While to decrease dependency on fossil fuels can be very helpful regarding geopolitical tensions for sure no matter what.

    There are other issues which frighten many people even more than Global Warming. One is tremendous increase in all sorts of waste some very hazardous to humans and nature.

    There are specialists as Layla Acaroglu doing very interesting work (See She has pointed out with other people that “recycling is dead” and that despite decades of talk on life cycle design businesses have been designing for waste using the recycling label as an easy way out of addressing more serious questions about how things can be reintegrated into nature after use. There in the last century was an unprecedented increase in waste that has stockpiled around the globe.
    Perhaps we can hope that governments and people put pressure on businesses to design so that products can be reintegrated into nature.
    Personally I feel it is unfair and seriously so to put all the pressure on the public with false information regarding the efficacy of so called recycling.

    There are many hazards ongoing for instance:
    Uranium mines and other mines around the world that are “leaking” into the environment as in the U.S.A.

    Nuclear submarine waste – which thankfully has started to be addressed

    The Fukushima disaster that is perhaps under-reported in its consequences for the ocean:

    There are micro plastics and other plastics that with other issues as insecticides has negatively effected peoples endocrine and hormone systems:
    Testosterone levels of men have been dropping;

    Fertility of women is declining for instance there are effects of the “pill” in Londoners’ water supply:
    More dangerous issues than Climate Change:
    A study published in Nature considers that there are at least 6 issues more dangerous than “climate change”:
    What can people talk about?
    It seems to be a common feature of humans to be incapable of facing what threatens their sense-making paradigm regarding reality and their feeling that they can cope and maintain functioning. For instance most people have a very hard time of acknowledging that there is an existence of radical evil as seen in war crimes that go far beyond. This has been extensively discussed in some of the books of the American psychologist Dr. Lawrence Leshan as in his book “An Ethic For The Age of Space”. He shows that for people it is often easier to discuss issues that are outliers or too much of an amalgamation rather than being able to face the very seriously threatening main issues. Perhaps there are issues as warfare that are more threatening to the survival on the planet than climate change and huge weapons stockpiles. Especially the modern rise of nuclear arsenals such as of the Chinese with all the associated risks of production and safeguarding the weapons. And then also perhaps the lack of real life cycle design and respect for human health and reintegration of products into nature after use. As well as the impacts of production on nature both because of extraction of materials (think fracking oil and gas), air pollution, direct poison as in pesticides and so on.
    Then it is possible to mention wealth disparity with perhaps 24 or 26 individuals owning most of what the so called 1% owns. Poverty leads to suffering and even civil wars, or wars as the Second World War and so on.

    Hopefully pressure can be put on businesses to really consider people and the environment through all they do. First then is respect for every human life and the environment.

    1. Dear Finnur,

      thank you for your points. Well, I think you perfectly explain how complex the issue is. Obviously, and as previously stated, the climate is always changing. And being critical and honest at the same time, we should admit that we can not precisely say what causes or supports the climate change. As I tried to say earlier, we first of all live on a living planet, that moves and changes. Additionally, our planet finds itself in dependence of a planetarian balance regarding its neibhboring planets. And finally, we need to consider the human’s behaviour, whether it is of an environmental protective character or not.

      I think the climate debate caused a very important global movement, namely that people start to reflect on their daily life and their impact on the environment. BUT we also face a very dark truth, namely that out of the change of selfreflection, companies try to generate huge financial benefits, often polluting or damaging nature at another end again. The electric car industry booms and sells to the consumer the specific dream of being able to drive a car and to protect nature at the same time. But it is totally ignored that creating such car batteries includes the use of rare resources, causes the appereance of deserts, and more often than not violates our understanding of human values by empolying children in the mines.

      Another example can be the vegan movement. I understand that we might eat less meat, but what our industry shows us now is a huge amount of meat replacements being packed over and over again in plastic boxes and bags. So, didn’t the world community recently discuss the plastic trash issue? Was it just replaced by another media hype? My concern is that media seems to report in a biased and non-protective environmental way, by simply running after viewer levels. As long as this keeps being our daily reality, we need to re-learn to think for ourselves, to make up our mind, and to find solutions that we can stand in for. We are the key to change!

      Best regards,

      Daniel Erdmann

  3. Dear Louisa,

    Thank you for writing such an important contemporary article. In my view, climate change as a development challenge requires political will. The current global governance architecture is not properly designed to manage accelerating political economic interdependencies, the rules and norms of global governance are characterized by great asymmetries, and the unbalanced context of globalization indicates that vital areas of international development are not adequately covered. Ideological disorientation, post-globalization narrative, states versus market dynamics, asymmetric threats, limited legitimacy, divergent personalities, geo-economic and geopolitical shocks, weather-related risks, and technological disruptions are a contemporary challenge towards achieving a coherent climate change diplomatic system. Going forward, absence of policy stability to curb devastating effects of climate change is also a force to reckon with. Multilateral diplomacy is not designed to solve all global problems but at least to chart the development trajectory. Limited accountability, lack of transparency, and low level legitimacy challenges are faced by the global system in a bid to solve climate change challenges. However, two wrongs cannot make a right requiring re-contextualization of rules and norms, communication patterns, actors and roles, as well as contexts and locations. Individuals, private sector, state, and non-state actors, have a vital role to act on climate change. We cannot reinvent the wheel but there is need to build on existing practices as well as scaling up basing on mutual trust bearing in mind that politics is mainly about power and interest.


  4. Thank you all topic is great
    We are talking about a very delicate problem. Globally, there have been several unsuccessful aggressive and conflicting activities over the past year. We cannot solve the problem of global character by causing conflict through repeating the sentence how dare you
    Like any challenging situation, it requires good plans, patience, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, so does the topic of global warming.
    The conscientious usage of existing technologies and the development of new ones that will not pollute the environment is a general goal. There are plans, ideas – technological innovations that would reduce the level of CO2 emissions as well. We have practically everything that we need. The level of environmental awareness is not sufficiently developed. I also notice the lack of will as well as the fact that responsibility is not accepted but denied.
    It takes sincerely will solve this global problem. Apocalyptic predictions, initiating conflict is not a way to solve this complex situation but to become bigger than it is. The sentence how dare you was counterproductive and is heading to make the global warming problem bigger than it is.
    The primary task in this field is to strengthen the discourse of protection and preservation of the environment globally, to strengthen the desire and will to safeguard the environment and to strengthen our sense of love for planet Earth. At the same time, continuous work on finding technologies that will reduce the level of emissions CO2. Only in this way can the anthropogenic impact on environmental pollution be mitigated

    The ecologism that many presents as a contemporary political ideology is a concept that I see as a new style of living locally and globally.

  5. Thanks to all my colleagues for your comments, I appreciate and enjoy such intellectual discourse. The core of the academic paper I did was on taking leadership and facilitating collaboration versus doing nothing or agree to do something only if it will not have an adverse economic effect on us (such as the sentiment expressed by the current U.S. administration). I concur that there are more serious issues to climate change, that the climate has always been changing since the history of lives on earth, and yes, that takes political will.
    I have been working in the local government settings for many years, and I have always pushed for climate resiliency planning (both in Canada and in the United States), and every time when elected officials read my proposed annual work program for the year, I get the various level of rejections. Be it due to budgetary constraints, or that it was not mandated (by law) so we should not be taking on the efforts. I even had one mayor indicated that it would generate unnecessary fear to the community and it would increase the development costs for the developers. Economic development has been of top priority on every jurisdiction ever since the economic collapse in North America, the sound planning principle has been a taboo subject.
    Yes, we are the change and that is why as much as I am tired of the politics in my job, I still feel I can make a difference. I will continue to push for climate resiliency planning on the agenda, and I will further lobby the efforts by utilizing my diplomatic, collaborative and conflict resolution skills to do just that. Writing an academic paper is one thing, but being able to actually make a change in the community is what will help make a difference. Can I see change globally, perhaps not in my lifetime, but yes, I am optimistic, because the contrary is simply counterproductive and unthinkable.

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