An anti-poaching patrol rides on the Oua River in Gabon.

Is this the year of climate stewardship?

A burst of diplomacy leading up to the next climate summit, especially by Europe, the US, and China, signals more cooperation to put goals into action.   

Sometimes, just sometimes, climate diplomacy can lead to climate action. Last month, for example, Gabon became the first African country to be paid for protecting its forests, which cover 90% of the country. It received $17 million from Norway, part of a larger international plan to prevent tree-cutting in Central Africa and preserve the role of forests in absorbing climate-heating emissions.

Such triumphs in eco-stewardship across borders are worth noting because this year has seen an extraordinary burst in climate diplomacy, a professional field now as important as nuclear, trade, or peace diplomacy. This could mean the international talk-shops that regularly agree on voluntary climate goals might be closer to producing real results, perhaps leading to fewer heat waves, mass flooding, or super typhoons.

In recent months, the world’s major air polluters – China, the United States, and Europe – have stepped up their geopolitical competition in setting climate goals. On Wednesday, the European Union issued a very specific regulatory plan that could reduce greenhouse gases 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. President Joe Biden is pushing a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan that is heavily focused on green energy and decarbonization. He also created the first Cabinet-level climate envoy, filled by former Secretary of State John Kerry. In March, China announced that it would begin to scale down coal use in 2026 as it scales up renewable energies. On a more cooperative level, the G-20 group of wealthy nations has collectively endorsed carbon pricing for the first time.

Much of this diplomacy is driven by the next United Nations meeting on climate planned for November. Nations want to put their best plan forward at the talks in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.S. has also returned to the table after a four-year lapse in climate diplomacy during the Trump administration. And the pandemic has served as a reminder that global cooperation is needed for global challenges.

Climate diplomats, who represent their respective national interests, increasingly use the term “climate security.” While countries may be affected differently by climate change, they all must be on board to help secure themselves from harm. Stewardship of the planet must include stewardship of other nations. That’s why Norway is paying Gabon to save trees. They both feel a bit more secure working together.

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