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  • Writer's pictureAdriana Santamaria Duthon

The Paris Agreement, a diplomatic challenge?

IPSA (2021)

This paper was presented during the International Political Science Association - Concordia Summer School in Applied Diplomacy

The current global climate crisis and the COVID19 pandemic have brought states, regions, cities, biodiversity, and humans to a threshold. In fact, due to its increased magnitude, frequency, and severity, ‘it can easily be regarded as the most complex global policy problem.’ While many efforts have been made since the latter half of the 20th century, climate change has now a firm fixture on the global political agenda and on the private, social, and scientific spheres. As the world enters the second decade of the 21st century, new concerns arise, mainly on how State and non-State actors participate in the conceptual dimension of climate-related policy making. Since climate change is global in both its causes and effects, any process requires collective action, based on a ‘built-in compulsion for addressing the root causes through international cooperation’. To pursue such a colossal global endeavor, the role of international organizations, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been paramount to promoting and facilitating intergovernmental climate change negotiations. Through the 2015 Paris Agreement (PA), the United Nations has recognized the interconnected reality of climate change and has also acknowledged the need for all actors to advance the implementation of environmental policies under a multilateral approach. Despite bringing together 196 members by 2020, the agreement ‘set out a more ambitious long-term temperature goal than many had anticipated, implying more stringent emissions reductions that have been under-explored by the research community’. However, due to the multidisciplinary challenge set forth by the Paris Agreement, a significant gap has been created, not only because of global economic disparities between developed and developing countries, but also because of the role that certain actors play in establishing goals, measures, and political will. As we move forward toward the second five-year cycle established by the PA, the international community has many diplomatic challenges to face, specifically related to economic inequalities, mitigation, and transparency. If the Paris Agreement and its members depend on the processes designed by the current international system, what can the UNFCCC do to help states meet their targets and make significant progress on global climate change? This question is crucial because it allows States, politicians, economists, lawyers, engineers, and scientists to partake in the diplomatic negotiations. It also gives the UNFCCC potential tools to enforce the treaty and its actions. To pursue our analysis, this paper is structured as follows. First, we will summarize and break down the key elements of the diplomatic challenges surrounding the Paris Agreement. This will allow us to consider the effects of its legally binding nature as well as its multilateral structure. Second, we will evaluate the actors and the power they have on climate negotiations. This will illustrate how their resources and interests are not always aligned with the PA’s objectives as they are limited by different objectives and important political disparities. Finally, we will suggest three potential recommendations on how to address the most pressing diplomatic challenges. The intention is to strengthen the Paris Agreement’s framework, enhance its mitigation tools, and reconsider the role of public and soft diplomacy in climate change.

The Foundation of the Paris Agreement

Today, ‘climate change is the poster child of global diplomacy’. However, this was not always the case, as environmental issues have not always been at the center of international relations or treaty negotiations. The first international environmental summit took place in 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden. It led to creating of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and brought forward several commitments to coordinate global efforts to promote sustainability. During this conference, climate change was only seen as a footnote because ‘climate change was mostly a scientific concern and not a pressing political problem.’ The conversation regarding the risks posed by increased greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) was introduced during the First World Climate Conference in 1979 and was pursued during the Toronto Conference on Changing Climate in 1988. It was only until 1990 and after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) first assessment report that the international sphere (mainly States and political actors) called for a global treaty. These scientific reports built a political momentum that propelled the negotiations in the UN General Assembly of what became, on May 9th, 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This was the first global agreement on climate security that acknowledged the effects of human-induced climate change as well as the role that each country had according to different commitments. Most notably, it established that industrialized countries, also known as Annex I Parties, had more significant responsibility in combating climate change. Since then, a Conference of Parties (also known as COP) has been held annually to review the Convention and take decisions regarding its implementation. The first COP in 1995 was vital as it sought to strengthen the UNFCCC’s commitments, resulting in the creation of the Kyoto Protocol, which established the first greenhouse emission targets to be achieved,. An essential aspect of this protocol was that it mirrored the initial Convention as it recognized the specific needs and concerns for developing countries. Thus, since their beginning, both the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC have acknowledged the unprecedented role of economic inequalities as a core cause and effect of climate change. On December 21st, 2012, Parties of the Kyoto Protocol adopted a critical amendment, also known as the ‘Doha Amendment” which extended the Kyoto commitments until 2020 by establishing the foundations of today’s Paris Agreement. This move did not only strengthen the role of international law in multilateral agreements, but it also created the ground for its legally binding nature. The negotiations that followed the Kyoto Protocol demonstrated the diplomatic challenges surrounding the agreements. The failure to reach an agreement during the Copenhagen COP15 in 2009, meant that Parties would have to wait six years before any significant diplomatic attempt could occur. It was only until the COP21 held in Paris in 2015 that new negotiations were initiated. It is important to mention that actors surrounding climate change were also slowly becoming more heterogeneous: activists, civil society, and other regional organizations had political voices that added pressure on States to pursue more decisive climate goals. The Paris Agreement was cautiously welcomed by most actors as it ‘set an ambitious goal to keep temperatures “well below 2 °C” and “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”. The main contribution of this Agreement was that all Parties, regardless of their status within the international economic sphere, were required to submit a comprehensive national climate change plan, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These measures established a deadline for countries to develop and agree on guidelines to bring the agreement to life and make them come into effect in 2020. Finally, during the COP24 in Poland in 2018, the creation of the Paris Rulebook established a set of guidelines implementing the agreement. It was through the Katowice Climate Package that essential procedures and mechanisms were established to make the Paris Agreement operational. As the international climate change negotiation round moves forward, the next round (COP26) that will be held in Glasgow in 2021 will be aiming to finalize the Paris Rulebook and will be pursuing further solutions to an increasing global challenge. Overall, the Paris Agreement marks a decisive break from its unsuccessful -yet crucial- Kyoto regime. ‘Instead of target and timetables, it established a Pledge and Review System, under which states will offer Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reducing emissions that cause climate change’. However, beyond its negotiation and mitigation strategies, the UNFCCC must focus on resolving specific diplomatic challenges required to make significant progress on global climate change.

The diplomatic challenges of the Paris Agreement

“As we enter the 21st century, everybody seems to agree that diplomacy is changing and yet few people can specify exactly how or where it is heading”. This means that just like the increasingly heterogeneous cast of diplomatic actors change, so does the function of diplomacy and the nature of international challenges and conflicts. Thus “since diplomacy is about mediation between the inside and the outside of distinct polities, and the character and relationship between these polities change so that the boundaries between them become blurred, it would be surprising if the diplomatic practice were to remain unchanged.’ When we consider the current diplomatic challenges the UNFCCC faces, we must understand that they are all a direct result of the political and international status-quo. As we move towards COP26, there are three paramount challenges that will determine the outcome of any significant future progress on climate change. The first concerns the legally binding nature of the Paris Agreement and its reliance on multilateral collaboration. The second, regards the ‘principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities’, its differential treatment, and the difficulty to implement an international climate instrument based on formal equality. The final diplomatic challenge to consider is the instrumental limitation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), specifically since they ‘were they key to reaching the Paris Agreement and will be instrumental in implementing it’. Together, these diplomatic challenges provide insight to possible amendments of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC’s frameworks.

A legally binding treaty and multilateral collaboration

According to the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement is ‘a legally binding international treaty on climate change’. This supposes that the Parties who have signed the agreement are expected to fulfill their obligations under the negotiated provisions. It was the Durban Mandate that set the general frame for the UNFCCC negotiations, based on the idea that the Paris Agreement would be ‘the outcome of a protocol or another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention’. The result was a legally binding treaty between States with an ambiguous legal character. In fact, ‘the legal character of each of its core provisions was negotiated very closely to produce robust procedural ‘obligations of conduct’, while avoiding precise ‘obligations of result’. This legal nature makes the Paris Agreement an instrument that ‘relies less on its legal character and more on its collective goals, reporting and reviewing mechanisms and its stakes to shape state behavior and public attitudes’. On a domestic level, the legally binding treaty becomes even more complex. By allowing countries to set their own levels of ambition for climate change mitigation, it acknowledges the primacy of domestic politics. Thus, ‘popular notions of a binding international agreement mistakenly assume that the binding nature of the obligation translates into actual implementation by states and therefore equates with the effectiveness of the agreement’. This means that for most countries, international laws take effect only through the actions of individual foreign states, however it is only the domestic actions of each State (enacted laws, policies, and regulations) that are necessary to meet international obligations established by the Paris Agreement. As we move forward, this will become an increasing diplomatic challenge for the UNFCCC as conflicts between international law and domestic law will increase. In essence, a treaty that is legally binding may be politically binding but it has little to do with what must happen at the domestic level to make the agreement effective. In correlation with the challenges presented by the legally binding nature of the Paris Agreement, we must also consider the role of multilateral collaboration. Undoubtedly, the Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement for one common cause has been accepted and ratified by 196 nations. This means that all actors are expected to collaborate under one same process and towards one common goal. However, these strategies might come at a cost. In fact, ‘a multilateral approach might impede action—by slowing things down, by making it more difficult (or even impossible) to reach agreement, or by empowering reluctant participants’. Obtaining agreement among all countries in the world is always difficult, and in the case of climate change, there are many other challenges that go from different political and regional interests to North-South politics. Like many international treaties, decision-making processes make it even more difficult to conceptualize the complexity of climate change. Overall, the legally binding nature of the Paris Agreement and the pursuit of its actions under a multilateral approach will become even more challenging to implement as the COVID19 pandemic has created a new era of interest protectionism.

The ‘principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities

‘The principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) will play a role in the 2020 Climate Regime’. According to the Paris Agreement, the Parties are ‘being guided by [the convention’s] principles, including the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.’ This means that all Parties are expected to cooperate in the spirit of global partnership while they are also expected to understand the different capabilities and responsibilities in the way countries can address global climate change. Differential treatment has a long history in the legal systems and in the international environmental context. This ‘basis of equity’ has become a focal point as it raises the ‘right to development’ by developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol model of differentiation had already created categories of memberships ‘based on Parties either holding or not holding legally binding obligations’. The application of this model by the UNFCCC meant that Annex I countries (industrialized countries that were members of the OECD in 1992, plus countries with economies in transitions) had legally binding emission reduction obligations, while Non-Annex I Parties (mainly developing countries or countries that rely heavily on income from fossil fuel production and commerce) held no legally binding emissions reduction commitments. Another critical form of differentiation happens at the implementation level. The Paris Agreement categorizes its members based on when and how obligations must be performed. In fact, ‘some states may be given incentives to implement deferred compliance dates, technology transfer or financial assistance’. This suggests that the ‘differential treatment has become the price to be paid to ensure universal participation in environment agreements concerning global problems’. Overall, the ‘principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities’ has always been a diplomatic challenge. Firstly, it creates a differential treatment based on the level of mitigation actions each country can do, even if, at the core of the Convention, the climate change crisis should be addressed as a global partnership. Secondly, the idea of responsibility equates with the idea of accountability which in turn may create a sense of ‘causing the problem’ or the idea of ‘responsibility to or a duty towards addressing the problem’ which may increase the differential treatment. Finally, the membership categorization may create a sense of inequality as some Non-Annex I countries are States who do not lack financial or structural resources to combat climate change. Some countries in this category are also members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and could be perceived as accountable actors in climate mitigation. Thus, ‘the complexity in understanding the political economy of climate change is reflected in its temporal, spatial and conceptual dimensions. It’s a stock rather than a flow pollution problem’.

The limitations of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

‘Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) were key to reaching the Paris Agreement and will be instrumental in implementing it’. The Paris Agreement (Article 4, paragraph 2) requires each Party to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve. Together, Parties are expected to pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the climate objective and the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. NDCs are submitted every five years to the UNFCCC Secretariat and contain a set of climate-related targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, policies, and measures government aim to implement, and the contribution strategies required to achieve the global targets set forth by the Paris Agreement. Undoubtfully, NDCs can be considered the backbone of the Paris Agreement due to their instrumentality and their potentiality if action plans are fully implemented. In fact, the NDC approach ‘can contribute strongly to developing the landscape of democratic global politics, with support from new trans-disciplinary approaches that capitalize on connecting the range of forms of knowledge’. From its creation, the Paris Agreement had one main goal; to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. Under this paramount -yet vague- objective, member states are meant to decide individually what actions they will commit toward the common goal of climate risk reduction. Indeed, ‘this institutional innovation offers a much-needed source of democratic renewal for global climate politics’. However, the goal of decreasing CO2 emissions in such a short amount of time requires extensive societal, industrial, technological, and economic reconfiguration. This suggests that ‘beyond the expected mitigation numbers, NDCs have proven to be more difficult to analyze and compare’. As many critics have underlined, the UN climate negotiations and the UNFCCC have provided limited guidance on their formulation, which has resulted in varying scopes and contents of NDCs (they can range from 3 to 57 pages), and often lack details concerning ambitions. This supposes that ‘many governments will be tempted to use the vagueness of the Paris Agreement, and the discretion that it permits to limit the scope or intensity of their proposed actions’. Overall, these variations illustrate two crucial challenges: there is poor communication between Parties and the UNFCCC, and there is a diverse understanding of ambitions and priorities. As a result of the latter, the UNFCCC faces another inevitable concerning issue: the lack of goal and mitigation transparency. The pursuit of transparency under the Paris Agreement plays another important role in global climate change practices. In response to endeavor the UNFCCC created the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF), a reporting and reviewing process to ensure the transparency of mitigation and adaptation action and transparency support. The aim of this framework is for the Agreement to implement this structure in a ‘facilitative, non-intrusive, non-punitive manner, respectful of national sovereignty, and shall avoid placing an undue burden on Parties’. Such a transparency framework is meant to encourage cooperation, rationalize decision-making and ensure all countries engage in the processes and respect the requirement established. However, ‘the proliferation of global governance institutions has brought forward preoccupations over the insufficient access to information and the possible weakening of democratic accountability’. This means ‘that global governance has created a new degree of political opacity that calls for compensation by the adoption of transparency measures’. As we move forward to COP26, new diplomatic challenges will arise. The first diplomatic challenge will be for all Parties to pursue transparency practices on a domestic and international level. The degree of political corruption will also need to be addressed. The second diplomatic challenge will be centered around the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) and its instrumentalization. In the long-term, the question to consider is whether ‘the goal creates individual or collective obligations for Parties, and whether it is sufficiently specific to enable the tracking of individual or collective performance’.

The Climate Actors

Under the Paris Agreement, the role of State and non-State actors has become increasingly crucial. This ‘network shines a spotlight on governments, cities, states, business, civil society, and multilateral organizations, that are taking collaborative and transformational action, including by aligning with national climate plans, enhancing pre-2020 ambition, and unlocking financial flows’. Overall, these actors have supported the UNFCCC efforts in creating a solid web of domestic and international influence.

The first actor to assess is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The latter is an international, non-political organization that derived from a political momentum in 1992. According to the UNFCCC Secretariat, they are responsible for ‘facilitating the intergovernmental climate change negotiations’ and they ‘serve to advance the implementation of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement’. It also provides ‘technical expertise and assists in the analysis and review of climate change information [while also] maintaining the registry of NDCs’. The role of the UNFCCC is essential as it orchestrates the implementation and operation of the Convention and its clauses. However, ‘the effectiveness of UNFCCC can be expressed as the extent to which global policy decisions are implemented in national measures to reduce climate change policies’, which stipulates that the UNFCCC has been effective to a limited extent.

The second key actors to evaluate are the 196 member states or Parties of the Convention. These are sovereign States that under the Paris Agreement context must respect the “principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibility”. Parties are divided into Annex I Parties (industrialized countries plus countries with economies in transitions), Annex II Parties (member of Annex I without the economies in transition), and Non-Annex I Parties (mainly developing countries or countries that rely heavily on income from fossil fuel production and commerce). The purpose of this division is to create a collaboration system that would close the technological, financial, and development gap between industrialized countries and developing countries. It is important to note that the current political relationship between all Parties suggests an issue on the role of each State on economic inequalities, on the uneven impacts of climate change, and the unequal political system. Moreover, the pledge and review system under the Paris Agreement will lead to effective action against climate if both OECD countries and newly industrializing countries take costly actions, which for the OECD countries will include financial transfers to their poorer partners.

The third actors of climate change are funding international organizations. This group is mainly made up of two important contributors: The Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established within the UNFCCC’s framework as an operating entity of the financial mechanism to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change. This is the ‘world’s largest climate fund, mandated to support developing countries raise and realize their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) ambitions towards low-emissions, climate-resilient pathways’. They operate through a network of over 200 accredited entities that include ‘international and national commercial banks, multilateral, regional and national development finance institutions, equity funds institutions, United Nations agencies, and civil society organizations’. Much like the ‘principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities’, the Green Climate Fund has a country-driven approach, which means that developing countries take ownership of the GCF’s financing decisions, enabling them to turn NDC ambitions into climate action. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is also established in line with international environmental policies. GEF was created in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit to tackle the planet’s most pressing environmental problems. The GEF ‘is the largest multilateral trust fund focused on enabling developing countries to invest in nature and supports the implementation of major international environmental conventions’. It brings together 184 member governments in addition to civil society, international organizations, and private sector partners. Contrarily to the Green Climate Fund, the GEF has determined projects in which they operate, which supposes that countries do not operate the fund at their own discretion, but instead, they join global support programs according to specific environmental issues. Overall, the GEF is another fund that supports ‘the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities’ even if the projects are not solely focused on greenhouse gas emission targets.

The last groups to assess are the non-Party Stakeholders and non-State actors. In its preamble, the Paris Agreement recognizes ‘the importance of the engagements of all levels of government and various actors’. In fact, the role of non-State actors was initially highlighted at the COP17 held in Durban in 2011. But it was during the COP20 held in Lima in 2014 that the Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action (PGA) and the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) brought together the commitments to actions by various non-State actors. As of June 2020, 20 453 actors including 10, 855 cities, 247 subnational regions, 5 893 companies, 1 206 investors, and 2 061 civil society organizations were registered as climate actors by the Global Climate action. According to the UNFCC, ‘non-State actors have been exerting influence in international negotiations, where States are the primary actors in sharing the burden of emission reduction.’ This type of global participation suggests that only non-State actors can pursue unique programs targeting climate change. For example, cities have great potential to cope with climate change by creating trans-municipal institutions, such as the International Council on Local Environment Initiatives (ICLEI), or by playing a crucial role in climate litigation. Another example of sub-non-State actors are the companies that adopt major private initiatives to reduce their emissions by focusing on renewable energy projects. However, their role is still complex as there is a lack of uniform international standards and non-binding private codes that could create competitive security standards. The last sub-group of actors is civil society. The latter plays key roles in promoting certain aspects of policy making, such as: improving the population’s access to climate information, giving voice to the most vulnerable groups, promoting accountability, promoting participatory and inclusive disaster risk reduction approaches, and actively participating in inter-institutional coordination at local and national levels.

Undoubtedly, the role of non-State actors will keep increasing. We will see a bigger space for the development of soft diplomacy while at the same time, ‘variety of actors make the regime more complex under a decentralized and disaggregated approach at multiple governance levels.’ As climate change policy making becomes more critical and goal achievement becomes more difficult, new non-State actors will become more imperative for international climate negotiations.

What can the UNFCCC do to help states meet their targets and make significant progress on global climate change?

As part of the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit global warming to well below 2, ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The latest science shows that ‘emissions will need to drop by half by 2030 and reach net-zero by mid-century to meet this goal and prevent the worst impacts of climate change’. In fact, any international observer can see that progress is happening far too slowly for the world to meet its emission-reduction targets, and the current COVID19 pandemic has created new priorities for both domestic and international politics. Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) negotiations, countries are expected to submit stronger national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and develop ambitious national plans. However, this paramount global responsibility is inherently dependent on the rapid transformation that will be needed to close economic, financial, and technological gaps. This prompts the question: what can the UNFCCC do to help states meet their targets and make significant progress on climate change? Climate change is an inherently political issue. At its core, it revolves around the themes of power, morality, and interests’. This supposes a myriad of diplomatic challenges surrounding both the objectives and future effects of global climate actions under the guidance of the UNFCCC. Even though current technology will probably provide certain tools to fight against climate change, there are many issues that need to be considered, mainly the roles of multilateralism, economic inequalities, and the instrumentalization of targets and transparency. For the purpose of our essay, we have determined that a constructivist perspective on international relations can unlock certain aspects shaping current global climate politics that are left unexplored by more popular IR theories, such as neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism. In particular, a constructivist approach ‘focuses on identity and interest construction and how these features relate to States’ conduct at global climate negotiations’. By analyzing the diplomatic challenges of climate change under a constructivist perspective, we can recognize both material and ideational factors as well as the construction of social structures by heterogeneous actors, their influence on global negotiations and policies. Furthermore, constructivism is able to investigate why states have come to regard climate policy as national interest in the first place as it allows us to highlight its structure and its effects on global climate governance. Overall, our objective is to give in-depth proposals that can provide new perspectives and tools for the UNFCC, its Parties, and their key actors to make significant progress on climate change.

Regional Committees and Regional Ombudsmen

The first diplomatic challenge we had analyzed regarded the Paris Agreement’s legally binding international treaty on climate change. The main issue surrounding this structure is the relation between the targets, the domestic actions needed to be set, and their implementations based on international negotiations. The fact is that the States ‘are motivated to sign onto agreements and to take action to comply with those agreements for any number of reasons relating to self-interest, public pressure, reputation, horse-trading – in effect, political reasons.  The “legally binding” nature of the obligation is simply not likely to be a significant one of those reasons’. This challenge becomes increasingly complex due to the expectations set forth by a multilateral approach that is based on global collaboration. Overall, ‘the Agreement sets out a powerful shared vision of the transformations that must be done […], but the legal character of each of its core provisions was negotiated very closely to produce robust procedural ‘obligations of conduct’, while avoiding precise ‘obligations of result’. In order to alleviate the effects of global obligations and multilateral differences, new regional committees should be implemented. This suggests that sub-agreements could be implemented for an entire region to work towards unified targets under the common goals and perspectives. The idea is to reinforce web-like relationships between colliding countries in order to create a more communicative approach of targets as well as include non-State actors by pursuing economic-based strategies. This would allow cities to play a more important role in strengthening municipal climate policies while also promoting information to different non-State actors. While regionalism is not uncommon in the Paris Agreement’s practices, it highly promotes climate security policies, but little has been done to encourage regional cooperation. In fact, the multilateral approach of the Paris Agreement is based on the collective effects of each Party’s contribution, which in turn encourages a unilateral perspective of goals and ambitions, adding to the vagueness of political will. Moreover, the division of Parties according to their level of development encourages domestic law over international law, as they become a target to evaluation procedures. Thus, by letting each country be accountable for its targets and objectives, the UNFCC reinforces the economic inequalities even if regional powers may change the way these inequalities can be targeted. In practice, this regional collaboration can be achieved by establishing groups of 4-5 countries that share borders and who share a specific ecosystem. Every two years, an ombudsman representing the group as a whole would be responsible for communicating the regional NDCs to the UNFCCC. The objective would be to strengthen the target goals via a smaller collective system (made from both State and non-State actors), where projects could be easily managed and financed. The cost of this project would be minimal as the ombudsman could be financed by all countries, which could also advocate for the development of stronger diplomatic ties. However, such a regional approach may underscore the difficulty of political and financial feasibility in large-scale development of climate policy. This is mainly due to an institutional uncertainty that translates into the challenge of making regional cooperation into a permanent global structure. To prevent such a problem, the UNFCCC could provide political and institutional guidelines to create Regional Committees as well as the political role of Regional Ombudsmen.

Science diplomacy and common integration

The second challenge we had identified was focused on the principle of ‘equity and common but differentiated responsibilities. The latter creates the idea of responsibility and accountability which in turn may develop a sense of ‘causing the problem’ or the idea of ‘responsibility to or a duty towards addressing the problem’. This cycle increases the way differential treatment is institutionalized under the Paris Agreement. The main issue is that by underlining the equity and the differences, climate change collaboration strengthens the already existing economic inequalities. While the Agreement already established the importance -and responsibility of Annex I Parties- to provide information on financial resources, technology transfer, and capacity-building support, it does not elaborate on potential ways to get there. The role of science diplomacy will be paramount for future climate change negotiations. This is because ‘in many critical arenas of complex policy making, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, the combination of scientific uncertainty, variable predictability of future states, and disputes over the likely consequences of policy options render science as much as a topic for investigation as a source of policy guidance’. Moreover, current science diplomacy argues that reverse dynamic (‘diplomacy for science’) as well, international scientific cooperation, and basic research will increasingly become main objectives supported by national governments’. For this reason, we propose the recognition and the establishment of Science Attachés. These independent actors would facilitate collaborative transfers of information and technology as they would operate under the conduct standards of International Civil Servants. This means that they would ‘bear responsibility for translating the United Nations ideals into reality, specifically the ideals of peace, respect for fundamental rights, economic and social progress, and international cooperation. These actors would pursue Public Diplomacy as well as Soft Diplomacy to facilitate information and technology access. This would support the implementation of better collaboration practices between industrialized countries and developing countries. It’s important to note that the development of a group of Science Attachés would not eradicate the economic differences, but they would help any bi-lateral and multilateral negotiations by providing all Parties accurate scientific information and the need to pursue new climate change practices. Just like the regional ombudsmen, these Science Attachés would be paid by all Parties but would require following specific courses on science diplomacy. A potential issue that could arise from this proposition is that political interests could impede neutral science diplomacy. However, this could be easily resolved by ensuring that the chosen Attachés respond to the standards of International Civil Servants.

Global Indicators and transparency

The final challenge we had underlined was based on the NDC’s technical loopholes and the potential goal transparency complications. In fact, if NDCs are to become the long-term instrument for international cooperation, negotiation, and ratcheting up of ambitions to address climate change, then they need to become more transparent and comparable, both with respect to mitigation goals and to issues such as adaptation, finance, and the way in which NDCs are aligned with national policies.’ Directly linked to the role of NDCs is the role of transparency. An institutional transparency framework would allow the UNFCCC, its members, and all other State and non-State actors to appreciate the rationality and legitimacy of the pursued objective. This is due to the fact that today, ‘transparency is largely perceived as an important element of institutional legitimacy’. While the UNFCCC has established its Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF), which is meant to start in 2024, there is much that can be done to support a global and uniform vision of transparency and accountability. We believe that using standardized global indicators could push for transparency practices without underlying the importance of accountability, which can sometimes negatively affect domestic political will. For the purpose of this proposal, we recommend the creation of three global indexes. The first one is a Regional Cooperation Index based on the Regional Committees proposed in this essay. This index should include common targets, potential funds and finance, and corporate programs. It would allow the UNFCCC to perceive regional potential as well as the gaps between other similar regions. This comparative vision could help Parties determine attainable target-specific goals. The second index we propose is the Economic Value of Nature Index. This would be the most innovative tool as most economic systems don’t recognize the non-monetary value of nature, only the economic value in its exploitation. The purpose of this index would allow the UNFCC to see the direct costs (how much states invest in climate policy implements) and the indirect costs (overall perception of society in climate-related actions). It would allow closing the gap between the actions of policy making and the role of non-State actors. Moreover, it would strengthen the importance of Regional Committees and the role of the c. The last index we want to recommend is the Inaction Index. While the entire Paris Agreement centers its goals on action-driven objectives, it’s also important to calculate target inactivity. In fact, the NDCs have the capacity of measuring participation, but there are no instruments that can measure inactivity and the effects it has on goal achievement. By measuring inactivity, the UNFCCC could observe which countries are being inactive either by choice or by lack of technical tools to achieve their targets. The idea is to move away from accountability practices by understanding where and how Parties need help to achieve their goals. Overall, this index could support both the NDCs and the ETFs. The costs for implementing these global indexes would be minimal as they require a team of social scientists, a resource that could be found in the UNFCCC or in 196 countries. The potential problem that could arise, like many of the global indexes, regards result interpretation, but this can be reduced by implementing social and scientific interpretations.


We have emphasized the relevance of three diplomatic challenges and the echoes they will have on the next COP26 that will be held in Glasgow. The first challenge we identified regards the nature of a legally binding treaty based on multilateral collaboration. We then addressed the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and the role of differential treatment in climate change negotiations. Finally, we established the technical limitations of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the role of transparency in goal achievement. We also analyzed the role of specific climate actors in creating an information and financial network to support global climate change policies. By evaluating the diplomatic challenges and their actors, we were able to suggest three comprehensive proposals that can support the UNFCC and the Parties to meet their targets and make significant progress on global climate change. First, we proposed the creation of Regional Committees and Ombudsman. Second, we recommended the creation of a special task force, also known as the Science Attachés. Finally, we advanced the idea of creating three global indexes: the Regional Cooperation Index, the Economic Value of Nature Index, and the Inaction Index. However, as the global community moves towards the future, the 2020 instruments need to evolve and move beyond the broad division of developed and developing parties in order to reflect current realities in global power and growth. More critically, all climate change negotiations must reconsider the paramount role of new actors, such as ombudsmen and science diplomats.




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