Lessons in climate diplomacy from Ethiopia and Bhutan 

As the Paris Agreement enters into force, IIED has been examining how two of the world's poorest nations are playing a leading role in the climate diplomacy needed to define the rules for its implementation. 

The Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the UN, Kunzang Choden Namgyel, signs the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (Photo: Amanda Voisard, UN Photo)

Next week, on 4 November 2016, the Paris Agreement – the new, universal, legally binding treaty on climate change – will enter into force, less than a year after it was adopted.   

This rapid entry into force is thanks largely to enthusiastic efforts in climate diplomacy, as diplomats – including some from the world's poorest countries – have been working tirelessly to ensure cooperation between governments to achieve this goal.

When the United States and China jointly announced in September that they would ratify, followed by the European Union, this pushed the agreement past the double-barrelled threshold of accounting for 55 per cent of global emissions and ratification by 55 countries. Fourteen of these first 55 countries were among the world's Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

This means the agreement has come into force well ahead of its original 2020 schedule, which is great news for maintaining political momentum, but also means some of the treaty's finer details remain ambiguous.

Defining the rules

For example, the agreement mandates a "stocktake" of its goals every five years, but how will this process be taken forward? What guidelines and procedures will govern how the agreement is implemented and how compliance is monitored?  

These rules of implementation are expected to be the focus of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations at the upcoming Marrakech climate change conference, which begins on 7 November.

These issues are crucial for the LDCs, which see addressing climate change as a key national interest. Their voices are vital to the talks in Marrakech, and they are some of the strongest proponents of ambitious climate action and an equitable means of achieving it.

I have been working with in-country experts to explore how two of those countries, Ethiopia and Bhutan, have successfully engaged in climate diplomacy.  

Lessons from Ethiopia

In the case of Ethiopia, the country's late former prime minister, Meles Zenawi, left a legacy of strong political will and leadership that enabled the government to integrate climate into its development strategy, set ambitious national targets and successfully coordinate climate action across ministries. 

Led by the efforts of its prime ministers, Ethiopia has engaged in diplomacy with its neighbours and the broader international community to effectively lobby for greater international ambition to tackle climate change and support for mitigating its impacts.  

We found that the Ethiopian Panel on Climate Change plays an important role, generating evidence to support climate advocacy, and provides diplomats with a firmer foundation for influencing international negotiations.

Policy pointers from Bhutan 

Bhutan is internationally recognised as a model for climate action, and approaches climate diplomacy from a unique moral high ground. The nation has implemented a series of sustainable development policies to achieve carbon neutrality and submitted an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the Paris Agreement pledging to keep its emission levels below its forests' sequestration capacity.  

Bhutan's experience demonstrates that fulfilling international commitments increases political capital on the international stage, bolsters national credibility and strengthens negotiators' moral authority to lobby for greater ambition from others. The country also works to effectively coordinate between national agencies in order to bring its best talent to the negotiating table. 

As nations – LDCs and others – work together to fully implement the Paris Agreement, the diplomatic efforts of proactive countries such as Ethiopia and Bhutan will remain fundamental to raising the ambition of climate action and ensuring that all countries live up to their commitments.

Brianna Craft (brianna.craft@iied.org) is a researcher with IIED's Climate Change research group. This blog draws on work carried out in partnership with in-country experts Gebru Jember Endalew and Doma Tshering. To read about Ethiopia's climate diplomacy, see Gebru's work on 'Understanding national engagementnational policies and drivers', and 'Drawing conclusions and recommendations'.