Diplomacy has a key role to play in climate action

Bernardino Leon explores the role the UAE can play in global climate change actions

Abdeladim El- afi, High Commissioner for COP22, attends a conference at the UN World Climate Change Conference 2016 in Marrakesh. Fadel Senna / AFP
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A year after Cop21, climate action is high on the international agenda. As the world shifts attention to climate talks in Marrakech, the international community should look back at a few significant milestones. Most visibly, the Paris Agreement – a direct outcome of Cop21 – became binding on November 4. It marks a victory not only for climate negotiations, but for diplomacy as a whole. In fact, as a case study in effective engagement, it has already outlined a new school of thought for conducting foreign affairs in our times.

One of the reasons behind the recent success of Cop is that the approach embodies the art of 21st century diplomacy. Merging the best of the two worlds, the Paris negotiations have capitalised on the consensus-building measures of multilateral diplomacy. Yet the work continues – for political leaders, entrepreneurs and for members of the public.

Building on the Cop21 successes and reaffirming a clear commitment to meet global climate targets, the parties to the Paris Agreement convene in Marrakech for Cop22. The assembly aims to agree on a framework that will convert pledges into results.

The UAE delegation, featuring diplomats as well as representatives from businesses and academia, has joined its international counterparts to help craft a road map for climate action. This in turn embodies a new frontier in 21st century foreign affairs – climate change diplomacy.

Such collective efforts truly reflect the raison d’être of modern-day diplomacy. They involve businesses and investors, governments and agencies, international bodies, the European Union, the Gulf Cooperation Council, academics, experts, advocacy groups, the media and the general public. Each of these plays a distinct role in the climate change conversation.

As the first GCC country to ratify the Paris Agreement, as a champion of energy diversification through the adoption of renewable and alternative energies, and as the host of the International Renewable Energy Agency, the UAE is bringing in a wide range of evidence of climate action leadership.

Getting to this point has required the widest range of diplomatic skills. In terms of coalition building in the run up to the talks, it meant aligning all interested parties, appreciating distinct cultural and national political considerations, and communicating the efforts and successes to the public – including through digital channels – while remaining open and inclusive to all initiatives.

With regards to policy, it meant deploying quantitative tools, like analysing big data, to complement the qualitative research that helps understanding the agenda of each institution involved. And when it comes to the action on the ground, most importantly of all, the success boiled down to a mixture of soft and hard diplomatic skills, and skilful diplomats who have been able to demonstrate negotiation skills, flexibility and adaptability to the ever changing dynamics.

For the UAE, it is clear that the necessary targets can only be achieved through partnerships, through openness and through collaboration.

The UAE’s efforts and the public-private engagement have played a defining role in the painstaking diplomacy necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement. Reinforcing the importance of the UAE in the global effort to mitigate climate change, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon launched the annual Abu Dhabi Global Action Day at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2016. Next January, this event will be the first global platform to debate and act on the outcomes of Marrakech.

We can build on the progress achieved so far to harness new relationships and to leverage a collaborative mindset. It is increasingly apparent that diplomats are an important cog in securing this legacy on the ground – through effective implementation.

This is why the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, the international relations and diplomacy, academic, training, best-practice and research institution, is proud to play a role in the Cop22 process. EDA is part of a special youth delegation at Cop22, alongside the Masdar Institute, Young Future Energy Leaders and New York University Abu Dhabi.

EDA’s activities at Marrakech will focus on energy, climate change and sustainable development in the region, helping to shape and inform the UAE’s foreign policy positions. They are also expected to foster greater collaboration across the UAE and with regional governments.

In a bid to strengthen the UAE’s diplomatic credentials, the EDA’s focus is increasingly to ensure that the country’s brightest young minds are ready to play their part in delivering concrete action on climate change and to secure the UAE’s global and regional leadership in this arena. Thus, EDA is sending students to observe and participate in the climate negotiations at Marrakech, and to report their thoughts, findings and analysis to further their knowledge and understanding of this critical area of expertise.

We are proud to play our part in finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. At Cop22, it is the duty of the diplomatic community to turn the effect of climate change into lasting opportunities for the benefit of all.

Bernardino Leon is president of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy