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Diplomacy

How civil society and others achieved the Paris Climate Agreement

Duncan Green's picture

Michael JacobsA brilliant analysis by Michael Jacobs of the success factors behind last year’s Paris Climate Agreement appeared in Juncture, IPPR’s quarterly journal  recently. Jacobs unpacks the role of civil society (broadly defined) and political leadership. Alas, it’s over 4,000 words long, so as a service to my attention deficit colleagues in aid and development, here’s an abbreviated version (about a third the length, but if you have time, do please read the original).

The international climate change agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement. It was also a remarkable display of the political power of civil society.

Following the failed Copenhagen conference in 2009, an informal global coalition of NGOs, businesses, academics and others came together to define an acceptable outcome to the Paris conference and then applied huge pressure on governments to agree to it. Civil society effectively identified the landing ground for the agreement, then encircled and squeezed the world’s governments until, by the end of the Paris conference, they were standing on it. Four key forces made up this effective alliance.

The scientific community: Five years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was in trouble. Relentless attacks from climate sceptics and a number of apparent scandals – the ‘climategate’ emails, dodgy data on melting Himalayan glaciers, allegations surrounding its chairman – had undermined its credibility. But the scientists fought back, subjecting their work to even more rigorous peer-review and hiring professional communications expertise for the first time. The result was the IPCC’s landmark Fifth Assessment Report, which contained two powerful central insights.

First, the IPCC report introduced the concept of a ‘carbon budget’: the total amount of carbon dioxide the earth’s atmosphere can absorb before the 2°C temperature goal is breached. At present emission rates, that would be used up in less than 30 years. So cutting emissions cannot wait.

The other insight was that these emissions have to be reduced until they reach zero. The IPCC’s models are clear: the physics of global warming means that to halt the world’s temperature rise, the world will have to stop producing greenhouse gas emissions altogether.

The economic community: But it was a second set of forces that really changed the argument. Since the financial crash in 2008–2009, cutting emissions had fallen down the priority lists of the world’s finance ministries. The old orthodoxy that environmental policy was an unaffordable cost to the economy reasserted itself. A new argument was required.

Why I’d like to believe that a robot cannot do what I do

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Human-Cyborg HandshakeWhat follows is something that arrested my attention the other day. Around the febrile atmosphere that has developed between officials from Greece and officials from partner EU states and other institutions, an anonymous diplomat made the following point to the Financial Times:
 

In diplomacy, national interests set the stage, but human emotions determine the script. The longer the negotiations take, the more sympathy, love, rancor, jealousy and exasperation come into play. It’s the one profession that robots are least likely to take over.” (FT 20 June/21 June 2015, “Months of Greek debt talks yield bad blood but no deal”).

In other words, if your job involves understanding and working with, and through, human emotions, then it is reasonably safe from the growing imperialism of robots.  When I read that, I chuckled. Then the thought hit me: if that is the yardstick maybe the business I am in – the business of aligning stakeholders, winning friends and influencing people – is also one that robots are least likely to take over. Let me explain.

Transparency and Volatility: A New Era in International Relations

Johanna Martinsson's picture

The accelerated changes in communication flows are posing both opportunities and challenges in the global system.  A recently published book entitled ‘Diplomacy, Development and Security in the Information Age,’ edited by Shanthi Kalathil (a former colleague and contributor to this blog), seeks to better understand the changing face of international relations in a new era, by examining two emerging themes: heightened transparency and increased volatility. Leading up to the publication, practitioners grappled with these themes, and how they are affecting international affairs. Craig Hayde, one of the authors, notes that transparency and volatility are increasingly inextricable concepts. He says “transparency does more than simply put information out there – it inculcates a shared value that information should be available”, but that it is also “facilitated by the same technologies that promote instability, risk, and uncertainty in the business of international relations.”

The collection of essays provides fresh thinking in an area that has mainly focused on the use and impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs). While several essays discuss ICTs, Kalathil points out that “the premise for the series is not to minutely examine new forms of technology and their impact. Rather, the premise for the series is that ubiquitous global communication flows have, over time, created an encompassing information environment that nurtures transparency and volatility in pervasive conditions and/or guiding norms.”

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

By The People (America.gov)
Civil Society and Social Media

“The term “civil society” can seem almost as amorphous as the term “social media.”  Yet the two are becoming ever more powerfully linked to the promotion of democracy and human rights in the modern world.

Civil society can encompass any collection of nongovernmental activists, organizations, congregations, writers and/or reporters.  They bring a broad range of opinions to the marketplace of ideas and are considered critical to a vibrant, well-functioning democracy.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has described a free civil society as the third critical element to democracy – the other two being a representative government and a well-functioning market.”

Media Without Borders

Caroline Jaine's picture

We are unstoppable when it comes to communicating.  “Communicate” means “to share” and it comes as second nature (it’s socially addictive in fact).  The 300 million of us blogging can rarely be silenced.  A comment on a Minister’s blog can provoke a policy change.   A micro-blog can influence a legal challenge (the Trafigura/Carter Ruck affair) or inspire masses (the Iranian elections were the top news story on Twitter last year).  And a social network group like Facebook can undermine an X-Factor winner’s success (a winner ironically chosen by “the people” by telephone vote).  It is the public, not governments that are beginning to drive change. But whether we like it or not it’s still mainstream media that is being listened to most – TV, radio and most powerful of all – the old fashioned newspaper read out loud.  It’s more coherent, more organised, and usually better written than the complex voice of the masses.  Big media still counts.  
 

Soft Power: Talking to the People

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

East Germans gathering in front of the "Erfurter Hof" to see West German Chancellor Willy BrandtWatching current international events unfold, we increasingly see how foreign policy acknowledges the role of the public in politics. Since the 1990s scholars have used the term "soft power" to describe a certain kind of international diplomacy, and it seems that this kind of cooperative diplomacy gains more and more weight on the international stage. The term "soft power" was coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye in his 1990 book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power and he developed his concept further in Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, published in 2004.