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Atul Rai asked: What will be the impact of climate change on international relations?

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  • P.K. Gautam replies: A very good question. As scholars in India are taught various streams of IR, I find the following idea very appealing as far as climate change is concerned:

    “The scientific debates, which are crucial for understanding problems of global commons, differ from many of the debates --- in that they do not follow the familiar perspective on international relations (IR). There is no realist or liberal position on whether the earth is warming and why” (Keith L. Shimko, “The Global Commons,” Chapter 13, International Relations: Perspectives, Controversies & Readings, Wadsworth: Cengage Learning; 4th edition, 2012, p. 323)

    Two major variables are in operation here. ‘A’ or behaviour of states for their national interest and power politics, is the first major variable. We may call it geopolitics. This behaviour has not changed much. In the last century, it may have been related to both the World Wars, but now the same attitude can be seen on all international issues like economics, WTO, resource struggle, climate change, etc. International negotiations and politics of climate change can be discerned via the lens ‘A’. Thus we have major developing countries, such as, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), having one position of common but differentiated responsibility and equity, team up against the industrialised countries to demonstrate meaningful mitigation. This does not mean that Sino-Indian boundary issues are forgotten. It only shows the various levels of behaviour by same countries differently on major issues in world politics. Similarly, behaviour of Arctic Five (USA, Canada, Norway, Russia, Denmark/Greenland) over snow melt due to climate change is another good example of climate change and IR as it leads to resources and new sea routes which will have far reaching implications in the long term. All five countries have their own national interests, possibly more important than climate change. Study of IR also shows that it is better to cooperate. IR can transfer this wisdom to peace research and conflict resolution as well.

    Second behaviour is ‘B’. This is about how issues of climate change, such as, mitigation and adaptation, are perceived. Regional relations can get strained by politicians blaming everything to climate change. Water treaties by India with its neighbours are good example of it. Changes in water flow data needs to be known across boundaries as a result of climate change. Climate change related intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are on the rise. This will demand regional and international disaster mitigation and response. This will again demand a cooperative discourse in IR.