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Climate-Forward Diplomacy, Development, and Defense at the Pacific Futures Forum


By Elsa Barron

Last month, the Pacific Futures Forum, which is a platform for collaborative dialogue to re-imagine multilateralism in a changing world, hosted critical conversations in the lead up to the COP26 Glasgow summit. The plenary session, “Transforming our world: a secure, sustainable, and prosperous future,” featured former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. In his keynote address, Moon underlined the importance of supporting the political will that was initiated at COP21 to fulfil our moral responsibility to act on climate change. Following this call to action, moderator Samira Ahmed led panelists Hon. Sherri Goodman, Samir Saran, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti CB, Divya Seshamani, and Benet Northcote in a discussion on a secure, sustainable, and prosperous future. The panel covered the role of diplomacy, development, and defense within the framework of environmental security.

COP26 itself kick-started the conversation on global diplomacy. When asked about her priorities for the global summit, Sherri Goodman, Senior Strategist with the Center for Climate and Security and Chair of the Board at the Council on Strategic Risks, emphasized that we are well on our way to 1.5 degrees celsius of warming, and that temperature rise exacerbates threat multipliers for insecurity such as extreme temperature, drought, and natural disaster. Therefore, Goodman noted, COP26 must focus on the root of the problem: emissions. Enacting deep-decarbonization and setting and achieving net-zero goals is a crucial diplomatic goal in regard to climate change. Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation, agreed, adding that there is a need for global leadership that is capable of policy making and diplomacy with a long-term perspective in mind, detached from the perpetual need for immediate gain that is often antithetical to solid climate commitments.

Benet Northcote, Deputy Chairman at the Conservative Environment Network, stated that we can not only rely on global discussion, particularly when local politics have an important role to play in making climate solutions a reality. He noted the case of China, where communities that rely on the booming fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods have a vested interest in the industry’s growth. He noted that the same could be said for communities in the United States and elsewhere, and that creating viable economic development opportunities in vulnerable areas is a key component of combating climate change and ensuring a secure and prosperous future. When it came to the details of implementing sustainable development solutions, the panelists raised a number of questions about how to make green development work. However, there was agreement that making investments in green development is an important piece in solving the climate puzzle.

The final category in the 3D framework is defense. Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, Professor of Climate and Resource Security at University College London, was the first to respond to the question of how to conceptualize collective defense in light of the challenges that climate change poses to all nations. He highlighted the interconnectedness of a number of climate issues related to food, water, land, and more, leading to trade disruptions and price volatility, among other challenges. When it comes to responding to these challenges, Goodman recommended an approach that ‘climatizes security’ rather than one that ‘securitizes climate.’ The military has the capacity to support this mission and lead by example in technology innovation, but they should not be the primary force responding to climate change. She also emphasized that climate change and its impacts are already an important new component of geostrategic competitions: they can’t necessarily be separated out from diplomatic tensions. However, it is possible to integrate responses to climate change into responses to other kinds of security threats.

In the fight against climate change, the three-D’s- diplomacy, development, and defense- are each important tools. They are part of a larger conversation around our shared global future. With the close of negotiations at COP26, much work remains to be done if we are to ensure the security, sustainability, and equity of that future world. Climate-forward diplomacy, development, and defense are three ways to translate ideas into action.

Elsa Barron is a Research Assistant with the Center for Climate and Security

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