State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action Jennifer Morgan's speech on Climate Foreign Policy at the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) London

29.06.2023 - Speech

Thank you Dr. Harald Heubaum,

Thank you to SOAS for having me.

Message 1: The Climate change is one of the greatest security risks and foreign policy issues of our time.

When I first started working on climate issues, this statement out of the mouth of a senior decision maker would have been seen as ridiculous. A significant portion of governments and parliamentarians thought climate change was a niche environmental concern. Some thought it may someday impact some polar bears. Many others claimed human-made climate change was a hoax. Nowadays it is these assessments that would be considered laughable or completely out of touch with reality.

Just two weeks ago, the German government, the government I now serve as State Secretary and Special envoy for international climate action released its first ever national security strategy. In it we recognise climate change as one of the most serious security risks of our time.

The climate crisis destabilizes societies, fuels conflicts and disrupts peace and stability.

We are living in a truly decisive time, as described in the synthesis report of the IPCC that was published in March. While I have been reading these reports for the past 20 years, and contributing as a review editor, this one is particularly alarming. The report states that there is a “rapidly closing time window for actions to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all. The choices and actions we take now will have impacts for thousands of years”.

We are truly in a new era of foreign policy, a new era for climate impacts and action.

My Government and particularly Minister, Annalena Baerbock, chose to bring the responsibilities for climate foreign policy and international climate negotiations into the German foreign office for the first time BECAUSE she fundamentally believes that a modern foreign policy needs to respond to the way climate crisis and climate action are shaping our world.

The past year and a half has proven this decision prescient:

Russia’s war of aggression viciously highlighted the connection between fossil fuel imports, energy and climate security and peace. We have learnt our lesson: It was a definite error to become so dependent on one country for our energy resources, and not to have phased out fossil fuels earlier. We have seen that fossil fuel dependency is not only detrimental for the climate; it also diminishes our economic sovereignty and our political leeway. Now it’s clear: Energy security means zero carbon renewable energy, affordable energy, accessible energy – in Germany, in Europe, but also abroad.

At the same time it is undeniable: the drive to a zero carbon economy will bring its own geopolitical implications and challenges. It will shift the international balance of power. It will change the parameters that define political and economic influence – parameters that throughout the 20th century have been defined by the ability to access and exploit fossil fuels. There will be those who benefit and those who are challenged by this transformation. Some, like Mozambique or Senegal, will need support in forging brand new development pathways in order to turn their back on abundant fossil resources. Others, like Saudi Arabia, have the capacity and responsibility to manage the transition on their own.

On the other side of the equation – those least responsible for the climate crisis are facing climate catastrophes and intensification of resource conflicts. Particularly small island states are having to grapple with questions around statehood, the nature of their statehood and territorial rights in a world where they are facing loss of communities and culture, lives and livelihoods.

This spring I was in Tacloban in the Philippines. The climate crisis has many faces and in November 2013, it came as a terrible Typhoon to Tacloban, took away thousands of lives, left a trail of destruction and destroyed the livelihoods and the future of many, many more. Still this year I could see signs of the destruction, still feel the pain of survivors - almost 10 years later - like a scar on the surface of their community and the earth.

In the Sahel, I met women who were climate migrants – they had fled from Mali and go to Niger due to the extreme heat. They had started a small farm for their families but also for the families in the village, they were then living, with heat resistant crops.

At the state level, I speak frequently with colleagues in Vanuatu and Tuvalu – two small island states that are determined to preserve their culture and find new approaches to ensuring territorial rights to maritime economic zones, even when maritime borders shift due to sea level rise. In the face of these challenges, they are taking the lead – and with the full support of Germany and others have founded the Rising Nations Initiative to start finding answers.

Message 2: Climate Action is one of the greatest foreign policy opportunities and unifying forces of our time.

Seven years ago, when we signed the Paris Agreement, climate impacts were a largely theoretical notion for most countries. Now, no country in the world is immune to the extreme impacts of climate change. It is a unifying force, one that can only be overcome in collaboration.

This does not mean there is no competition or disagreement – but that we find areas of cooperation amongst the competition. Most recently – we created a transformation dialogue with China – a country that we are also in competition with for green lead markets and have conversations with them about human rights. But we share a recognition that impacts at 2 degrees will be much higher than at 1.5C. And as such have agreed to cooperate in accelerating sectoral transition – particularly to expand flexible and modern renewables infrastructure at provincial level. Agreed to accelerate action this decade to keep 1.5C in sight.

Climate is also an important bridge in an increasingly multipolar global landscape. We have seen President Lula come in on an agenda of social-ecological transformation – one that protects nature and people, and treats climate change as a risk to international stability and development. This does not mean that Brazil is no longer part of the BASIC group of emerging economies. But it means that climate can be a bridge to finding common ground. This is why Germany and Brazil recently established a high-level strategic dialogue, alongside a track 1.5 to create vital space for engaging civil society. To create a space to exchange on the climate (and climate-relevant finance) issues that will shape Brazil’s 2024 G20 Presidency and 2025 COP30 Candidacy.

The transformative energy policy underway is an opening – for new jobs, new green lead markets and new partnerships. We are looking at a full just transition that can combine access to critical raw materials, local value-creation and development perspectives and respect for human and community rights and environmental protection. This will open up new competition – see the dynamics around the US Inflation Reduction Act; but that is exactly why Germany is determined to be a shaper, not a taker of the new geopolitics of climate and energy.

Message 3: We are working to put a more just, a more social approach at the heart of our climate foreign policy.

The word justice is often mentioned in discussions on climate change, and the truth is the transition to climate neutrality – it will not happen at the speed and scale necessary if we do not make it a transition that brings people and communities along – that addresses rather than reinforces inequalities.

It is unjust that the most vulnerable countries and peoples in the world are hit the hardest, and by that I mean losing their homes, losing their loved ones - I have met with a number of those people, those families and carry their stories with me in my work. From a values based foreign policy perspective, and a feminist foreign policy perspective, we must support these communities. And standing with solidarity with these communities is both the right and the sensible thing to do. Because it is exactly those vulnerable communities that are most at risk for terrorists recruitment and forced displacement and migration. Bringing together climate knowledge into peace building missions is one approach we are testing and of course taking their losses and damages seriously is another.

Justice and social elements also need to be at the heart of our conversations with government about how we catalyse economic transformation to a zero carbon economy. Because people need to actually receive the benefits of the transition – not just be told about them.

So what does this mean for German foreign policy?

Now all of this is fascinating from an academic perspective – but it is also critical to the future stability and prosperity of our planet. As such, we are getting serious about mitigating the risks (and the emissions) and seizing the opportunities.

We now only have 7 years to halve emissions – we are taking this very seriously.

This means (1) walking the talk at home. Being credible in our own transition is the basis of any climate foreign policy efforts. And this does not mean managing the perfect, controlled and conflict-free transition – because the reality is that this does not exist. But it means being serious about tackling the hard stuff at home, and having the sensitive and sometimes polarised conversations about what is needed to make the transition fast yet socially sustainable.

Germany recognizes its responsibility to take the lead and that’s why we have a law committing us to be climate neutral by 2045. Last year, in response to the Russian war of aggression, we accelerated our energy transition even further. We are cutting red tape to speed up the expansion of renewable energy to reach 80% RE share by 2030 and fully decarbonise the power sector by 2035. We will triple onshore wind capacity to up to 115 GW, build 30 GW of offshore wind and expand solar PV to up to 215 GW by 2030. We are moving to make that happen.

In May 2023, a record-breaking 66.2% of electricity was generated from RE sources. New RE power capacities have now fully replaced both the coal reserve capacities temporarily re-activated in 2022.

At the same time, Germany aims to reduce final energy consumption significantly through efficiency measures, to decrease consumption by 24% (compared to 2008) until 2030.

We are also tackling the transformations closer to people’s homes and everyday lives- their heating and transport systems. And as everyone who’s followed the news knows – this has not been an easy debate, but it shows that we’re having the necessary debates on all aspects of the transition.

Turning again to our international efforts – we are (2) making our international engagement and cooperation as effective and consistent as possible. We are not resting on our laurels in the foreign office, but are building a whole of government approach to climate foreign policy. At the heart of this effort is a new climate foreign policy strategy that our government aims to put forward before the end of the year. One that defines shared priorities for accelerated action and solidifies structures that allows us to make more coherent offers and build alliances on eye level – for international stability and accelerated action this decade. This includes expanding our network of climate embassies and investing more in coordination with European and G7 Partners.

What does it mean for you?

Now in all of this you may be asking yourselves – what does this mean for me? Or ideally even, what can I do about all this? I was asking myself a similar question as an IR student at the School of International Service at The American University in 1989 - when I was thinking about environment as a new paradigm in international relations, but having no sense of what I might actually do… What can you do?

And the answer is – quite a lot.

You are at SOAS, LSE and UCL because you are bright, capable and wanting to shape the world and international relations of the future – this has never been more possible or more necessary.

And there are many pathways to shape climate foreign policy - this can be everything from getting engaged as a Youth delegate, in a government or corporate positive or as Academic Observers at international and national climate processes.

It can also be making it a standard practice to think through and communicate openly how climate action can advance or be advanced by your work – now and in the future.

So what’s at play in the next few months?
We are now in a very decisive phase of climate foreign policy. This year, for the first time, we will take stock of the implementation progress of the Paris Agreement with the Global Stocktake. This Stocktake that is the heart of the Paris Agreement. It is also where we need to see where more can be done. We have two years left to peak global emissions and at most 7 years left to keep 1.5°C within reach.

It’s crucial to take urgent measures to drastically reduce emissions, which are fuelling this cycle of disaster, making things even worse. This means drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels in all sectors. Currently we are on a road to 2.5-2.7 degrees C, a highway to hell, as UN Secretary General Gutteres said at COP27.

To do this, we urgently need more progress in shifting and aligning international financial flows with international climate action. This is why Germany is championing a reform of the World Bank, and looking to see where we can support in buying down the cost of capital and support debt-suspension, where climate impacts are driving vicious debt cycles. Next year we see 80 years of Bretton Woods – it is clear it needs to be updated to tackle the next 80. At the same time we need to do better at building resilience across the board.

We also want to build on the historic breakthrough at COP27 on loss and damage. I worked hard with the Egyptian Presidency and my Chilean counterpart at the last UN climate conference to get all nations to agree to create a suite of better funding arrangements, including a dedicated loss and damage fund. This decision was a historic decision and long overdue signal of solidarity and climate justice. And it was a great priority for Germany and the EU to ensure this historic decision to assist vulnerable developing countries.

Now we have to make sure, that this help reaches the people who most need it - and that all who are able to support the most vulnerable do so – in particular all wealthy nations.

We want to see the international community use this this year‘s World Climate Conference, COP28, to course correct – decide the outlines of the sectoral transformations and modernizations needed to close the gap to the 1.5 C limit quickly, at the latest by 2030 and focuses on the opportunities and co-benefits of transformation.

Specifically, we want to ensure that COP28 sends a signal for the acceleration of the just global energy transition and the phase-out of fossil fuels. Together with European and other partners, we are advocating for a global renewables and energy efficiency target that drives the substitution of fossil fuels and improves energy access.

We have little time. This is a decisive moment in history and – as I said in the beginning – the choices and actions we take now will have impacts for thousands of years.

We’re at a crossroad –We still have the chance to build a world that is more secure, healthier and more prosperous, but at a cliff edge.

The World the IPCC promises is a better one – one that is healthier, safer from climate catastrophes, more energy secure and keeps nature intact.

Let’s work together to build this new world and to drive the just energy transition forward!

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