What is Sustainable Development Diplomacy?

Sustainable Development Diplomacy (SDD) can be considered a ‘successor’ of the notion of International Environmental Diplomacy (IED) and originates from three parallel shifts in international environmental politics: (1) from environment to sustainability; (2) from government to governance; and (3) from classical to new diplomacy. Since the UNCED Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, so-called environmental problems can no longer be studied and managed in isolation; they need to be considered in their socio-economic and political contexts. In other words, we need to focus on sustainability instead of the environment. Secondly, non-state actors like NGOs and businesses have become ever more prominent in (international) politics and policy making, which is expressed by the term ‘governance’. A similar development, thirdly, can be observed in the world of (international) diplomacy. So-called ‘non-traditional diplomatic actors’ play crucial roles in sustainability diplomacy today. Without them, historical outcomes like the Paris Agreement on Climate Change can neither be understood nor achieved.
The term ‘SDD’ comprises new types of diplomacy which emerge on – amongst others – sustainability issues, sometimes referred to as the ‘new’ diplomacy, ‘inclusive’ diplomacy, ‘informal’ diplomacy or ‘guerilla’ diplomacy. These terms refer to other ways of doing international negotiations than through the traditional, nation state, foreign affairs and international security oriented diplomacy. Some authors claim that this ‘new’ diplomacy is very different from the traditional one. It is multi-actor (including non-state actors in international negotiations), multi-level (local issues and actors do appear at international negotiation tables, just as global issues and actors do), multi-rule (soft law is currently considered as relevant as hard law) and multi-sector (going beyond security issues and single issues, an example being sustainable development). Indeed, non-state actors are now allowed to play their roles in international diplomacy (think about environmental NGOs and their impact on international treaties), whereas private or public-private instruments to address sustainability issues are emerging (e.g. certification schemes for sustainable products, payment for ecosystem services, REDD+, etc.).

Sustainable development diplomacy, as an integral concept, remains under-defined. In a short series of clips we wish to extend the discussion on SDD with experts on the subject, both within and outside academia. We ask experts to recommend one article or book that holds a key insight into the field of SDD, as to shortly elaborate on this.

Prof. Dr. Bas Arts the head of our SDD track, and chair of Forest and Nature conservation at Wageningen University. Arts recommends two articles that together give a good introduction and critical reflection on the value and possible limitations of the mutual gains approach for SDD.

Recomended readings by Bas Arts:

Moomaw, William R., et al.
Sustainable Development Diplomacy: Diagnostics for the Negotiation and Implementation of Sustainable Development. Global Policy (2016).

Fay, Derick A.
Mutual gains and distributive ideologies in South Africa: theorizing negotiations between communities and protected areas. Human Ecology 35.1 (2007): 81-95.

Luisa Steur is professor of anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. Steur reasons why someone interested in SDD should read Tania Li’s critical reflection on the effects of labels of in- and exclusion of people in development in a capitalist setting. The article exemplifies this by showing how large institutions, with their use of the term ‘indigeneity’, often take over the same paternalistic role of colonial officials.

Recomended readings by Luisa Steur:

Li, Tania Murray, et al. “Indigeneity, capitalism, and the management of dispossession.” Current Anthropology 51.3 (2010): 385-414.

Brian Lowry, Deputy General Counsel at Monsanto Company, reflects on the value of the UN White Paper for corporations that wish to get involved in SDD.

Recomended readings Brian Lowry:

UN Global Impact (2006) White Paper. The UN Global Compact Ten Principles and the SDGS: Connecting, Crucially

Niek Koning, professor in agricultural economy and sociology, makes a plea for a return to causal analysis, in order to understand how the world has evolved in different ways in different locations. According to Koning, Lenski’s book ‘Ecological-Evolutionary Theory: Principles and Applications’ (2015) offers valuable insights in such analyses, and holds key insights for sustainable development diplomacy.

Recomended readings Niek Koning:

Lenski, Gerhard. Ecological-evolutionary theory: Principles and applications. Routledge, 2015.

Thea Hilhorst, professor of humanitarian aid and reconstruction at ISS Erasmus University Rotterdam, elaborates on the implications of effective diplomacy in situations of crisis that can be found in the book ‘Famine in Somalia: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures’ by Maxwell and Majid. Hilhorst offers a reflection on the potential of what she refers to as ‘scenarios’ for finding a middle ground between case-specificness and general recipes for diplomacy in crisis situations.

Recomended readings by Thea Hilhorst:

Maxwell, Daniel, and Nisar Majid. “Famine in Somalia: Competing Imperatives, Collective Failures, 2012–2012.” (2016).

Marcel Beukeboom, climate envoy for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and environment, stresses the need for diplomats to understand how language-use influences the way people perceive, and thus act on, climate change.

Recomended readings by Marcel Beukeboom:

Article Whitmarsh, Lorraine, and Adam Corner. “Tools for a new climate conversation: A mixed-methods study of language for public engagement across the political spectrum.” Global Environmental Change 42 (2017): 122-135.

Patrick Verkooijen, climate representative at the World Bank Group, explains why he is an optimist when it comes to creating large-scale transformative action to realize the global environmental commitments that were agreed upon in the Paris Agreement and the Development Agenda 2030. This report, initiated by the G20 and executed by Mike Bloomberg and 32 investors, concludes that unlocking the climate finance at required scale, which is in the trillions ($), requires that businesses disclose the climate risk to which they are exposed, and that they come up with strategies to address these risks.

Recomended readings by Patrick Verkooijen:

Final Report Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures 2017.

Frank Heemskerk, executive director of the Netherlands’ constituency at the World Bank Group, stresses the value of both practical experience and literature when it comes to sustainable development diplomacy. He recommends the recently published booklet by VNO-NCW called ‘Global challenges, Dutch solutions; Agenda 2030’ (2017) which describes several examples of Dutch businesses who have translated the holistic SDGs into pragmatic solutions. In this video Heemskerk mentions some examples of Dutch enterprises that have successfully integrated several SDGs in their businesses, and he reflects on the role of the state and the private sector in the large-scale transition to global sustainable practices.

Recomended readings by Frank Heemskerk:

VNO-NCW ‘Global challenges, Dutch solutions; Agenda 2030’ 2017.

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