Written by

Andrew Light headshot

Professor Andrew Light is the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University. He is also a distinguished senior fellow in the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., and formerly served as senior adviser and India counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change, and as a staff member in the Secretary of State's Office of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State.  

Light is an internationally recognized expert on the intersection of scientific and moral dimensions of environmental policy. As an O'Donnell Visiting Educator at Whitman, he gave a brown bag lunch session on the topic "Who's Afraid of the Anthropocene?" and spoke about a major milestone in international climate cooperation: The Paris Climate Agreement. His talk was titled "How 21 Years of Climate Diplomacy Achieved the Paris Climate Agreement."  

Light agreed to answer one pressing question for everyone interested in learning more about diplomacy and climate change from someone with insider experience in both.  

What are three of the biggest diplomatic challenges facing the international community when it comes to climate change policy?  

The first thing is that we need to keep the momentum going from achieving the Paris Agreement. The last year has seen the biggest international agreements ever in the history of climate diplomacy. We created the Paris Agreement last December, which for the first time includes commitments for greenhouse emissions reductions from over 190 countries, representing over 95 percent of global emissions. This was followed in the last month by a new agreement to limit greenhouse gas pollution in international air travel, and a landmark agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol to use it to get rid of hydrofluorocarbons, which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide as a warming agent. Success builds success, and so now is the time to see how we might be able to expand to new mitigation and adaptation areas as quickly as possible.  

Second, we need to implement the commitments countries made in Paris. This involves a different kind of diplomacy than creating an agreement. It's the diplomacy involved in helping countries actually implement the goals they have set for themselves on the ground out to the 2020s. In the U.S., this kind of work will be led by foreign service officers at our embassies abroad and entities like the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as our international export and credit agencies. The most important thing we can do is drive investment into countries so they can meet their new ambitious renewable energy, infrastructure and climate resilience goals.  

Third, we need to cement the progress made in the last few years of expanding the importance of climate diplomacy as a measure of global leadership. In the years running up to the Paris Agreement, climate change approached the international importance of issues like security and trade. This was due in large part because leaders like President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry pushed climate priorities at the highest levels of international relations. Now that we have Paris we can't afford to backslide. The nature of the pledges made in Paris are such that countries now have to raise expectations on each other that they will fulfill those pledges, and that kind of pressure only comes when how a country acts on climate in part determines whether other parties will cooperate with them on other important issues.  

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