One step forward, two steps back: Why does climate diplomacy fail? What can be done to get countries to commit?

By Alysa Yalch

In this article, I will discuss why Climate diplomacy is in gridlock despite calls for global change worldwide and efforts from world leaders. The UN Security Council calls it the “biggest threat modern humans have ever faced’ yet calls for international cooperation fall short.

Climate change is yet to be met with significant global cooperation. The international community struggles to come to a unified solution. While world leaders argue about over-commitment, time, money, and capability, the global impact support will cost their country. Carbon emissions are still increasing. According to the International Energy Agency, electricity demand will grow to 4% in 2022. At least half of the increase will get their power from fossil fuels.

Demand continues to increase, and renewable energy is not keeping up with the rise in electricity usage. Fossil fuels continue to rise despite energy alternatives because of the economic development in the developing world. The developing world lacks the infrastructure to use natural gas. Without international intervention to supply alternative energy sources, these nations will continue to use coal as their primary source of energy, not because these countries do not care about the climate, but simply because there is no alternative to supplying their nation and people with needed energy.

Developing nations are just one example of why climate change continues to rise. Many other factors include deforestation, massive farming of livestock, and the burning of fossil fuels in developed nations.

Current Negotiations

Diplomacy cannot work without policy to back it up. There are three components to fixing climate gridlock -diplomacy, technology for affordable and efficient to reduce carbon emissions, and policy to implement these technologies.

The rise in temperatures determines success. The Paris Agreement is an international treaty with 196 signatures legally binding these parties to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius with the target goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The goal is to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 and net- zero emissions by 2050. The United States is essential in breaking the international climate gridlock. The United States is one of the seven most prominent contributorsto global warming (China, United States, European Union, India, Russian Federation, Japan, and Brazil). However, the United States has more Carbon Dioxide than any other nation, historically around 25% of emissions. Therefore, the United States has a responsibility to lower the warming of the planet and provide the path forward for other nations who lack the infrastructure and technology needed to engage in implementing climate change policy. The recent rise in fossil fuel emissions is traced to developing nations, even if they are not the most prominent producers historically. The significance of this is to cut the carbon cycle as a source of energy for all nations. Since developing countries lack the tech, funds, and infrastructure to enact policy changes, it is up to developing nations to take the lead.

Why Climate Diplomacy is not working

There is no incentive for change. The gears are turning too slowly. Any change in energy takes a long time. For instance, the world relying on carbon emissions as a source of energy over wood and other renewable energies took centuries. The Paris Agreement attempts to stop carbon dependence in a fraction of that time. Leaders are struggling to work collectively to find a solution. The reason why a solution has not been met and initiated successfully is due to several factors. Many of these occur in international negotiations, which are credible commitment problems. It is difficult for all parties to commit and stick to change. When they do not trust the parties that they are working with and lack the information that the other signatories are also committed to altering energy sources, especially when, in the short term, a switch to renewable energy can mean instability in the economy. How can we solve the credible commitment problem?


Climate diplomacy is essential. The world already holds the tech and policy needed to enact change. We need to address the multiple failures that are in international cooperation. A lack of agreement is at the forefront of the issue. Countries work in their national interest. We must work with their national interest and provide solutions that benefit all parties. For example, a coal-dependent developing nation cannot be asked to stop building fossil fuel plants. The blind mandate will offer no benefit to the nation. Instead of negotiating for an alternative energy source provided by a developed nation, funds can be negotiated. However, in order for fossil fuel plants to stop being produced, developed nations, led by the United States, will have to take the initiative. The agreements need to be fair and built on trust. Hard to accomplish with the United States’ shaky commitment to the Paris Agreement, but not impossible to implement. There also cannot be a settlement. We must reduce carbon emissions by 2030, nay less, and risk catastrophic consequences for the following decades. Settling for less is a failure of diplomacy. We must achieve what we thought might not be possible.


I am not writing this article without the timeline of action in mind. Climatologists say that we need the planet’s warming to stop at 1.5 degrees Celsius. I have stressed the impotence of significant change on a large scale throughout this article, but can effective climate agreements be achieved in less than a decade? Yes. Incredible transformations have occurred in the course of just a few years. Take the Marshall Plan after WWII, a plan that rebuilt Europe and fundamentally changed the international arena. Change does not occur without significant dedication politically and a concerted effort in diplomacy.


This paper has established that while the whole world suffers from the effects of global warming, it is the responsibility of those few who have actively contributed to the warming of the planet to reduce the planet’s temperature rise significantly. The United States, in particular, holds immense responsibility. Climate diplomacy might now be at a standstill. While complete societal and systematic change is not feasible in such a short amount of time, that does not mean that significant change is not attainable. It is our nation’s hands to take the lead on international Climate Agreements. A commitment that the Biden Administration has already made. Though making a commitment and implementing successful diplomacy are different, the United States is on the right track to fight against climate change. This commitment must remain, as our commitment to climate diplomacy is essential to achieving international commitment.

Alysa Yalch is an undergraduate at George Mason University in Fairfax VA, majoring in Government and International Politics with a concentration in International Relations

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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