Exploiting climate diplomacy

Published December 1, 2022
The writer is an expert on climate change and development.
The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

IN recent years, climate diplomacy has become important for countries like Pakistan that are surrounded by a challenging security environment and changing climate.

As recently observed at the 27th climate summit held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, it has helped Pakistan re-engage with the world community, project its gentler image, leverage its soft power, develop a business case for the country, and broker a global consensus to support climate-vulnerable countries.

Are there any lessons that Pakistan can bring home to South Asia?

Climate diplomacy has over the years evolved its own characteristics that are not always witnessed in traditional diplomacy. The latter has traditionally hinged on secrecy, suspicion and surprise. It is often marked by win-lose relationships that were typically prisoner to zero-sum calculations. Further, traditional diplomacy is built on Intelligence (with a capital ‘I’), technology, weapon systems and military strategy, supported by a combination of covert and overt actions, etc. In pursuit of stable relationships, crisis management techniques are employed for predictability in relations and system stability.

Climate diplomacy, on the other hand, is evolving in its scope and complexity. It has evolved into a distinct branch of diplomacy that defies several precepts of traditional diplomacy. It seeks regional cooperation by embracing all nontraditional threats to security. In fact, regional cooperation paves the way for addressing nontraditional threats by applying the evolving principles of climate diplomacy. Or to put it differently, nontraditional security threats enable regional cooperation that was seldom the case with traditional security. In the climate change context, traditional responses can be counterproductive. Nontraditional responses can help regional cooperation flourish.

Further, regional cooperation and nontraditional threats are rarely entirely domestic or inter-state. Climate issues spill over from national to regional to international boundaries.

As chair of the Group of 77 plus China, the climate summit provided Pakistan an opportunity to lead a grouping of 134 countries, including formal sub-groups like the 46 Least Developed Countries, and the 40 Small Island Developing Countries. Pakistan also engaged with many overlapping groups such as the 58-country Climate Vulnerability Forum, 46 African countries, and V-20, an alliance of the 20 most vulnerable countries including neighbours Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Climate diplomacy is driven by faith in prolonged engagement in complex processes.

As chair of the G-77 plus China, Pakistan brought on the table the world’s largest economies and emitters, the US, EU, China and India. This was a remarkable feat for a country that otherwise follows an India-centric foreign policy and has relegated other global engagements to the secondary level since the 1992 Rio Summit when, coincidentally, Pakistan was chairing G-77 plus China under the able chairmanship of Jamsheed Marker. Pakistan’s experience of conducting climate diplomacy has provided it with exposure to new, innovative approaches for conducting regional climate diplomacy.

Climate diplomacy has evolved, as was witnessed in various climate and other multilateral environmental agreements by eschewing zero-sum calculations and by building win-win options.

Most importantly, climate diplomacy is driven by faith in prolonged engagement in complex processes, always supported by the latest scientific knowledge available to all in the open space of the knowledge marketplace. It has found innovative ways of reaching out to diverse stakeholders including CSOs, universities, the private sector, entrepreneurs, women, children, indigenous people and others, and used their creativity to avoid deadlocks in negotiations.

A set of new nontraditional threats to security have emerged in South Asia that redefine the India-Pakistan relationship. Regional cooperation and its scope are at a crossroads, while we are still struggling with the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and arbitrary interpretations of the Indus Waters Treaty. The list of nontraditional security threats is steadily unfolding. Presently, it is topped by fluctuations in river flows, the air quality that has engulfed both Delhi and Lahore, in addition to the changing patterns of monsoon and rainfall trends, and cloudbursts causing cross-border flash floods.

The long-term trends of seawater intrusion, tropical storms, droughts and desertification, epidemics and pandemics, and transborder migration and regional refugees are the new issues that demand space on our bilateral agenda. The frequency of climate-induced disasters has made the border trade of fruit, vegetables and some commodities more of a climate risk management subject rather than a simple political issue. The acuteness of these issues will aggravate as the global temperature increases further towards 1.5 degrees Celsius and beyond.

The UN Security Council has since 2007 begun to accept that climate change poses a threat to international peace and security. It has accepted several nontraditional threats that are rooted in disputes over water, ecosystems and environmental issues such as the Lake Chad Basin crisis, women’s vulnerability in conflicts, human trafficking, etc in UNSC resolutions 2348, 1325, and 2331. The UNSC sees climate crisis adding new dimensions to conflicts such as the Sudan war in Darfur (since 2003), the Somali civil war (2009), insurgency in Nigeria (2009), Syria’s civil war (2011) and the Mali conflict (2012). In fact, public unrest following flooding in Thailand and Myanmar in 2011 and 2017 was attributed to climate change. No credible studies exist to link unrest in Afghanistan and Balochistan with prolonged droughts.

Given the widespread monsoon disruptions that have begun to occur, as evident in Pakistan’s floods this year, it is in the ultimate strategic interest of both Pakistan and India to agree to do their utmost to halt global temperature change at 1.5°C. Pakistan needs to engage with both India and China, the world’s second and third largest emitters, bilaterally and as a group leading to COP28 in Dubai next year.

Going forward, the momentum created at Sharm El Sheikh cannot be maintained with the present weak institutional capacities. A clear strategic understanding needs to be strengthened in ‘whole-of-government’ particularly in the climate, foreign, planning, finance and sectoral ministries. This is a window of opportunity for Pakistan to put in place institutional mechanisms to engage India and other neighbours in climate diplomacy.

The global discourse on carbon markets and trading, carbon capture and sequestration, shift towards non-combustion engine vehicles and long-lasting batteries, phasing out of coal and fossil fuels, blue and green hydrogen energy clearly indicates that climate diplomacy has moved beyond the narrow confines of UNFCC processes. To quote: ‘It’s [about] the economy, stupid!’

The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2022

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