The Case for Climate Diplomacy: A Talk with Alexander Carius

As climate change increasingly becomes a growing global concern, the importance of integrating the topic into international relations and foreign policy is no longer an option. Long gone are the days of addressing climate change separately from development, trade, finance or foreign affairs, and many governments and administrations are rightly beginning to accept the fact that climate diplomacy simply must be forefront on the agenda.

Long before the Paris agreement, Alexander Carius, Co-founder and Director of German think tank adelphi, together with his team, established the Environment, Conflict and Cooperation (ECC) initiative. 15 years ago the ECC set out to start the global conversation on environmental cooperation and climate diplomacy. Today, the platform is seen as the leading source on the topic worldwide. We sat down with Mr. Carius to discuss the impact of the ECC platform, the role it plays for foreign policy and decision makers, and the importance of keeping up the global conversation on the greater effects of climate change.

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The effects of climate change go beyond environmental changes

 

Lucid: The ECC Platform is recognised as the central information hub for climate diplomacy and geopolitical relations. Can you explain a bit about the beginnings of the ECC initiative and its development?

Alexander Carius: The initiative itself began 15 years ago. Initially, we sought out to develop a platform for senior decision makers in different German ministries working on the geopolitics of global environmental change and the foreign policy implications of environment, climate and energy issues. The idea was to develop a repository of easily accessible documents and studies that provided quick information on these complex topics, in addition to advancing foreign policy thinking on global environmental change. In the early stages, the project was funded by the German Environment Agency, then by the German Environment Ministry, and since 2011 is supported by the Federal Foreign Office. Over these 15 years, the platform has grown immensely in terms of depth and range of topics, making it the central information hub on climate diplomacy worldwide. The ECC became the one unique source that policy makers, governments, international organisations and NGOs access in order to obtain information, and perhaps ever more importantly, use to follow the political debate from different parts of the world and within the EU.

Was the ECC always focused on climate diplomacy?

AC: In the past, the ECC platform acted as an umbrella mechanism for a couple of specific platforms including, but not exclusively, climate diplomacy. In 2011, when the Federal Foreign Office began to provide groundwork for the ECC platform, they asked us to focus on the geopolitics of climate change, in line with the agenda of Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who since 2005 made energy security and climate diplomacy one of the centrepieces of German foreign politics.

As the ECC is such a complex entity, how would you describe the central mission of the platform, and how do you ensure this mission is realised?

AC: The mission of our platform is to provide the evidence that natural resource degradation, competition over natural resources, and global environmental change, is subject to concerns of foreign policy makers. In order to achieve this, the platform is specifically tailored to the interests and the needs of said group. Initially, the ECC was simply a website plus a regular newsletter, but over the years has expanded into a complex information hub. Last year the website received a major overhaul with the addition of online tools, and just this month another significant update improving functionality and usability. We also rely on social media, Facebook and Twitter particularly, to disseminate the information we provide on the platform to a wider audience. And our newsletter continues to attract more than 3000 experts from all over the world.

As the platform on the forefront of climate diplomacy, how is the ECC impacting the discourse of international climate diplomacy summits (e.g. G7, COP21)?

AC: I think if there’s one general trend in global climate negotiations over the past decade, it’s reaching beyond traditional discussions under the climate regime, and rather linking climate change policy to development, trade, finance and foreign affairs. I remember in 2001 when adelphi presented its first study on the connection between climate change and security, the negotiators under the climate regime in Bonn were concerned that connecting climate change impacts to geopolitics would further complicate negotiations. Obviously, between then and now, this sentiment has changed drastically, as we explicitly observed last year with the Paris agreement. In fact, on the last day of the Paris summit, we presented the G7 A New Climate for Peace report at a side event. We didn’t expect many to attend – but the room was completely packed! Negotiators and government representatives demonstrated a great interest in the report particularly because of the need for a global resilience agenda that combines mitigation and adaptation, and prohibits dangerous climate change impacts.

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Thousands of participants witnessed the “historical” events of COP21

Environmental aspects are increasingly recognized as important elements of sustainable peace. How does the ECC initiative address administrations and individuals who continue to disagree with this idea?

AC: There is a debate going on in particular with South Sudan and with Syria, where a couple of scientific publications were picked up in the political discourse saying that neither Sudan nor Syria were cases of climate wars. The funny thing is, nobody actually said this! I’ve been part of the global debate on this subject for the past 20 years. Conflicts are the result of a very complex and dynamic set of drivers and triggers – this includes natural resources. Whether resource abundance or resource scarcity, it is an undeniable factor in the development of both conflicts and peacebuilding processes. This is why we wrote the G7 A New Climate for Peace report – to “massage”, so to speak, the international system by providing the evidence of dynamic risk compounds. This is why we then also developed the Factbookto illustrate, by means of concrete examples, what role natural resources and long-term climatic changes play in either the development of conflict or peaceful developments over joint management of natural resources. With our analysis at adelphi we helped policy makers better understand these dynamics by identifying entry points to mitigate these conflicts.

On that note, the ECC Factbook is one of the most recent additions to the platform and works as a tool for visualizing world conflicts caused by climate change. How important do you think the element of visualization is in contributing to a widespread understanding of these issues?

AC: I think visualization is key. Policy makers rarely read lengthy reports. One of the most downloaded documents so far is a two-page summary of the entire G7 report. And the graphics, developed by Lucid together with adelphi, are perhaps the most powerful element in illustrating the message of the connection between climate change and security implications. The Factbook was designed specifically for foreign offices to provide evidence of these issues. We use visuals as a reliable way of analyzing conflict, natural resources and climate change. To date, there are over 150 cases in the database giving policy makers the tools to learn more about specific conflicts around the globe. No matter where you land on the platform, you are able to really “dig out” very concise briefs and policy notes. Users can better understand the root causes, drivers and triggers contributing to a conflict, while also learning more about entry points of concrete policy responses – an important aspect when addressing a conflict.

ECC Factbook

The ECC Factbook provides a visual display of the geopolitics of global environmental change

With so much information in one place, how do you successfully communicate the key elements of the ECC, and more importantly ensure the data is getting into the right hands?

AC: Together with Lucid, we have just done another major update of the platform. This update improves functionality and design helping people access information on the platform much more easily. Better navigation and other improvements on the website will also help with accessibility. In terms of communication, we have been quite successful linking cases from the Factbook particularly, directly to Facebook and Twitter. Communication often depends on which global crises are receiving coverage in the media. For example, when media covers civil wars in Yemen or Mali, we add to the debate by posting information on the natural resources and climate dimension of these conflicts. This is well received – retweeted and shared around. The greatest external audience we have on our platform comes via Twitter to the Factbook. Eventually, in terms of communicating the message, we will increase our outreach activities to particularly address governments, think tanks and scholars outside the G7. When we had the launch of the G7 report and introduced the platform in each of the G7 capitals, we also introduced the report to foreign offices and aid agencies in Sweden and Switzerland. Providing tailored briefings to government agencies complements our online platform, but there’s an element of analogue consultancy and outreach that needs to be executed as well.

For those with a more general interest in climate diplomacy, the ECC has developed a travelling exhibition that breaks down all the components of the platform into manageable pieces. Can you explain a bit more about this?

AC: The ECC Exhibition is designed to attract a wider audience, and get them interested in the geopolitical issues surrounding natural resources and climate change. We’ve shown the exhibition internationally. It exists in 5 different languages, and is particularly interesting because the public openings of the exhibitions are often combined with expert meetings and public events attracting journalists. The opening events typically draw a few hundred people, and we often partner with domestic NGOs, the Bosch and DAAD fellowship programmes, or universities organizing study visits to the exhibition. If organizations want to get involved they can contact us to show the exhibition. We have basic funding from the German Foreign Office that allows us to send the exhibition abroad. We have partners in countries worldwide that take care of logistics, helping to set up the exhibition, and even organizing expert workshops to align with the topics. At the moment, we are showing about five exhibitions around the world each year.

 

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Travelling around the globe – the ECC Exhibition

The ECC has come a long way in the last 15 years. Was the struggle to get such an important conversation started and continually moving forward worth it?

AC: Absolutely! The ECC has helped shape the geopolitical discourse of environmental change globally. Through our activities at adelphi, we have established a worldwide community of practice within and outside governments. Today, adelphi is the most recognized institution on this subject with an impressively extensive track record. Government agencies and international organizations around the globe look to our expertise, analytical skills and knowledge on policy processes. Over the past 15 years, we have single handedly been the frontrunner in framing global environmental change as a foreign policy issue. Last autumn, we held a meeting at the United Nation’s General Assembly with Foreign Minister Steinmeier to launch the G7 report in New York. In a room with twenty-eight Foreign Ministers and heads of state, Mr. Steinmeier noted, in his first term he always had to explain why he as a Foreign Minister dealt with climate change. Now, in his second term, there is no longer a need to do so. This is of course not necessarily the result of our efforts at adelphi, but we have worked very hard to demonstrate the potential and the role of foreign policy on global environmental issues, and evidently, we think it has paid off.

 

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To find out more about the ECC Platform and see the recently updated website visit: https://www.ecc-platform.org/

 

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