Paris Peace Forum: Finding Ways to Make the Environment and Multilateralism Work
In one auspicious act, the 1972 meeting between the American president and the leader of the People’s Republic of China uprooted decades of US-China hostilities and led to an immediate realignment of the Cold War power balance. Present-day analogies to this seismic event do not miss the mark completely — the current war of words on trade barriers between the world’s largest economies is anything but inconsequential. Yet, while bilateral ‘deals’ might address short-term grievances, only multilateral approaches have the potential to solve the long-term global challenges that face us today, such as climate change, cyber security and mass-migration. The Paris Peace Forum provides an excellent opportunity to promote multilateral action.
Evidence of this trans-national, multilateral — and sometimes contradictory — conduct of global governance abounds. During the past six months, students from more than 100 countries organized classroom walkouts to demand climate action, showcasing the power of global mass-mobilization of non-state actors. Significant progress has also been made in negotiations on the Basel Convention to enhance the global regulation of plastic waste. However, more work still remains to be done in finding multilateral solutions at the highest levels. A handful of recalcitrant nations continue to dominate the headlines at the UN climate negotiations by refusing to welcome the latest IPCC report on a 1.5° temperature rise. These cases highlight the fragility of the multilateral process; sometimes satisfactory agreements are achieved, but often negotiation outcomes are sub-optimal and late to arrive — if consensus is reached at all. “One step ahead, two steps back” too often seems to be the prevailing theme.
That is not to say there has not been progress. The 2015 Paris Agreement represents a huge breakthrough for multilateralism, showing us that the global community can manage to put aside individual differences and short-term gains in pursuit of a greater goal.
The Agreement’s non-binding emissions reduction targets alone will not be enough to avert the oncoming catastrophe of global warming, but the legally-binding procedures, including the “racheting-up” mechanism, change the direction of travel and put us on a more hopeful path by ensuring that countries’ future targets become progressively more ambitious.
Today, in 2019 — with the benefit of hindsight — the creation of the Paris Agreement might seem to have been an inevitable outcome. However, it is important to remind ourselves that many previous attempts at reaching a “deal” on climate failed and success in 2015 was far from certain. Thanks to the commitment of numerous stakeholders and facilitators, and because of lessons learned from the setbacks of the past, a long-awaited global agreement on climate change — over 20 years in the making — was finally adopted in Le Bourget.
It is with equal parts excitement and humility that I look forward to attending the Paris Peace Forum. I will present a project that seeks to facilitate positive outcomes for future negotiation processes by helping stakeholders learn from the successes and failures of past negotiations. The Negotiation Database is a unique central knowledge repository that collects key insights and examples from the organisation of international summits and meetings, in order to make best-practices in negotiation management more transparent and accessible to all interested stakeholders.
In many ways, the 2015 Paris Accord represents yet another auspicious act — a moment that redefines the political landscape of our time. Now the hard work must commence. Here is to sharing, learning and listening to each other in Paris.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Dr Kai Monheim is the Director of the Centre for Multilateral Negotiations which he started in September 2015. Kai received his PhD from the London School of Economics on the topic of Multilateral Negotiations. He researched the key variables in the negotiation process contributing to the regime formation of climate change, trade, and biosafety.
Kai also holds a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, and a law/bar school degree from Humboldt Universität in Berlin, Germany. He previously worked as a Project Leader with The Boston Consulting Group and is a former Visiting Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE. He is trained as a mediator and works in political, business, and family mediation.