Charting the Course of Climate Diplomacy

Fiji, Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda seldom take the limelight in international politics. Yet, facing potential catastrophe, these island states were center stage at the COP26 summit, imploring the world’s wealthiest nations to address the perils of climate change. With scientific consensus projecting a worldwide increase in heatwaves, water shortages, crop failure, and flooding if average global temperatures rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the summit in Glasgow aims to adopt policies that will prevent the planet from crossing this threshold.

Despite an outpouring of goodwill, it is unclear whether the world’s largest economies can reorganize to moderate climate change or cooperate to set policy standards and subsidize developing nations in reducing carbon emissions. Moreover, there appears to be no consensus among wealthy countries on enacting more ambitious goals. Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia were conspicuously absent from COP26. China, the world’s largest polluter, has only modestly improved its emission goals since the Paris Climate Accords of 2015. Likewise, increased American efforts to reduce emissions depend on the passage of President Biden’s $500 billion green energy investment by a factious Congress. Nonetheless, bolder climate diplomacy is gaining traction. The Group of 20 announced Sunday that it would cease financing foreign coal production. On Tuesday, COP26 yielded progress on cooperation to curb methane emissions and deforestation, while the U.S. and E.U. unveiled plans t0 develop emission standards for a trade agreement on steel. Using this momentum to deepen climate cooperation will be necessary to avert a rise in average temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius, with all the risk that entails.

Questions and Background

  • Should climate change be discussed as a national security threat? If so, where does it rank beside other national security priorities, such as great power competition, in U.S. grand strategy?
  • Should the U.S. and other wealthy nations subsidize developing countries in transitioning to clean energy? Does this apply to major economies like India?
  • Can the U.S. insulate climate diplomacy with China and Russia from areas of friction with these countries?

Global Climate Agreements: Successes and Failures
Lindsay Maizland. Council on Foreign Relations. October 29, 2021.

Climate Realism
Francis Fukuyama. American Purpose. October 25, 2021.

Net Zero carbon pledges have good intentions. But they are not enough
Rahul Tongia. Brookings Institution. October 25, 2021.

China’s New National Carbon Trading Market: Between Promise and Pessimism
Jane Nakano. Center for Strategic and International Studies. July 23, 2021.

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