Environmental Diplomacy

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Global Diplomacy Cover
ORSINI, Amandine
Palgrave Macmillan
The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy


Orsini, Amandine. 2020. Environmental Diplomacy. In Thierry Balzacq, Frédéric Charillon and Frédéric Ramel (eds.), Global Diplomacy. An introduction to Theory and Practice, London: Palgrave Macmillan

International environmental diplomacy is recent compared to other kinds of diplomacy and only became official during the 1970s. However, it has stood out from the beginning due to its exemplary, unfailing dynamism over time. In 2013, Rakhyun Kim (2013) already counted 747 multilateral environmental agreements. Add to those the new agreements regularly adopted by states, like the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury that strives to reduce the harmful effects of mercury or the 2015 Paris Agreement related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), one of whose goals is to limit climate change and its effects. Driven by that dynamism, the scope of certain events in environmental diplomacy has grown exponentially. For instance, 25,903 participants took part in the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Marrakech in December 2016. Nearly a quarter of them were non-state observers.

But, first and foremost, what is environmental diplomacy? In theory, environmental diplomacy is understood as diplomacy that deals solely with environmental issues. But in practice, environmental diplomacy deals on a regular basis with many other themes related to trade (trade in endangered species, for example), intellectual property (such as rights of indigenous and local populations regarding the use of natural genetic resources), energy (reaching goals for reducing greenhouse gases, use of biofuels, etc.), health (among others, the health impact of consuming genetically modified organisms—GMOs), and even security (the consequences of global warming on transnational migration, for instance).

Initially understood by decision-makers with regard to its primary sense, environmental diplomacy was long seen as secondary by governments. That sidelining gave it more freedom and helped it to develop distinctive features that explain its current dynamism, as detailed in this chapter. The first part looks at the content of environmental diplomacy and the second part at its rules.