Asia and Environmental Diplomacy

by on Friday, 29 August 2008 Comments
The exhaustion of natural resources and the damage to the ecological environment, competition for resources and environmental damage have become issues of concern in the international community. Environmental issues are redefining the notion of security. Consequently, initiatives have been flourishing: Japan launched its Cool Earth 50 initiative in May 2007. End of November 2007, the new Australian government put to immediate execution its decision to sign the Kyoto Protocol. In December 2007, the United Nations Climate Change conference held in Bali draw much international attention, as the question of which mechanism will succeed to the Kyoto Protocol after 2012 is becoming one of the main global concerns and fields of diplomatic initiative. The Bali forum has seen developed countries set more ambitious goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa voluntarily proposing to set goals to reduce emissions. Also, innovative mechanisms for stopping the greenhouse effects of deforestation were agreed upon. The conference culminated in the adoption of the Bali roadmap, which charts the course for a new negotiating process to be concluded by 2009 that will ultimately lead to a post-2012 international agreement on climate change. In July 2008, the enlarged G8 summit in Japan was another stepping stone, closely followed by the largely successful Accra conference at the end of August 2008.

During the last 25 years or so, several significant documents and conferences testify to the development of environmental diplomacy as a choice area for multilateral, global cooperation: most often mentioned are the 1985 Vienna Convention on Protecting the Ozone Layer; the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer; the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, and its offshoots, Agenda 21 and the Commission on Sustainable Development; the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity; the 1994 UN Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States; the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development; the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change; the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa… Of decisive importance was the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.

From what precedes it clearly appears that the prominent role now given to environmental diplomacy at the global level makes it impossible for any responsible nation-state not to actively participate in it. First, this derives from a sense of global responsibility. Second, the change in methods and focus that environmental diplomacy encompasses opens up new venues for a culture and a nation, allowing it to intensify and diversify its presence in the international arena. Finally, it allows a nation to encourage its citizens, its scientists, its entrepreneurs and its social agents to become a defining force of this global endeavor, such “democratizing” international relations..

At the same time, it should be recognized from the start that engaging into proactive environmental diplomacy comes with a requisite, i.e. making international and national policies fully congruent. If a nation engages further into the path of sustainable development, with all adjustments needed in terms of legal regulation, economic policies and social implications, then its sincerity will be recognized by the international opinion, and its moral status will be consequently enhanced. Conversely, if a nation’s international diplomacy does not go along concrete policies and far-reaching domestic initiatives, then it risks to be accused of making environmental diplomacy a ploy, weakening its moral status at a time when the effectiveness of national policies on the issues at stake is becoming the focus of attention.

The contribution of entrepreneurs and scientists is of primary importance. Developed nations have to take advantage of their energy-saving technologies and experience in solar power, organic agriculture, nature conservation, ecological tourism… in order to create more opportunities for environmental diplomacy. This should start from the example provided by their entrepreneurs. Responsible environmental behavior must not be limited to one’s territory but extend to all countries where industries have delocalized. The development of a culture of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among a nation’s entrepreneurs will go a long way in helping her to achieve a decisive advantage through environmental diplomacy.

Summing up, environmental diplomacy should be based on citizens’ and entrepreneurs’ participation, technical cooperation with interested countries, spreading of knowledge and experience, and sense of global responsibility. Such strategy aims at creating model experiences in national policies, international pilot projects and institutional innovations. As illustrated above, there cannot be efficient and convincing environmental policy without a national policy of sustainable development that involves governmental agencies in charge of economic affairs, agriculture, the environment and, eventually, all public policies.

Nations, especially in Asia, must deploy an even greater inventiveness. This starts by paying an acute attention to the changing nature of global challenges. The ongoing debate on sustainability - with more specific questions on global warming, developmental model, use of energy resources, preservation of biodiversity as well as cultural diversity - is the most striking example of the questions that they must confront. It is not enough for Asian “dragons” to have been pioneers of accelerated growth and of democratization, they have now to be at the forefront of a new global battle: the one engaged for making sure that future generations will benefit from environmental, cultural and energy resources sufficient for ensuring the satisfaction of their needs. This is the ultimate rationale behind the rise of environmental diplomacy.

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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