Communicating small island developing states perspectives for tackling climate change control challenges, by Carlos Potiara Castro

As many of us know, the negotiations on climate change confront a multitude of interests that hinder strong decisions from being taken, as to change the worrisome direction we are currently following. It is also well known that those interests are mainly economic, strategic and geopolitical. An additional major complicating factor lies in the difficulties to understand and interpret the negotiations for those who are outside the “blue zone”, the official perimeter where occur the meetings. The way in which the negotiations are organized and carried out does not leave any room for insights of those who are external to these processes. The discussions, whether converging or diverging, do not explain the existing nuances between countries and within their delegations.

A live-streaming broadcast, for instance, does not show what is, in fact, taking place, as the position of each country negotiator is built around a series of interests, which, in turn, are developed throughout a long process of what is known as the build-up of the “national position”. To fully understand the complex position taken by each delegation one would need to have a proper knowledge on society dynamics, the production systems of each nation and its recent history of economics and politics, as well as the perennial interests of each party and those who are circumstantial. Certainly, only a few experienced negotiator fully dominate those subjects.

Every year, at the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Climate Change, creative solutions are presented as possible ways to proceed with the negotiations to avoid the heating of the planet. Efforts tend to focus on the convergence of positions that do not contradict too many specific national interests, especially those of the most influential countries. Although these efforts may reach a climax throughout the conference, they do not guarantee the adoption of wide-reaching and binding decisions. As in the case of the fluidity of the text of the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015. This is because the concrete reality is less malleable. Consequently, the conference commonly brings about a rather scarce number of solid results and often ends with a statement of goals that are to be adopted on a voluntary basis.

Even Brazil, which has made important progress in reducing greenhouse gases by decreasing deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest, has a negative agenda in place. This agenda is mainly led by the agribusiness, mining and basic material industries. These sectors benefited from the success of the policy on reduced deforestation, gaining more time to adopt costly pollution reduction technologies since it removed them from the main focus. In this way these sectors are empowered to continue to influence the international positioning of the country, including in the context of climate change.

Given this complex national and international scenario, perhaps the best results of the Climate Conferences are essentially ethical and moral in nature.  And this means that the commitments that arise as results of the conference sustain the understanding that to overcome the global environmental one should search for the common good. And that it shall prevail over the intense conflict of interests. What at first look seems correct. The problem, however, is that it does not really fit the scenario of the negotiations.

It is in everyone’s interest to recognize that several of the most developed countries are invariably seeking to support this ethical perspective. Although these are the countries that historically have made the most intense use of environmental assets for their respective development processes. Such fact suggest that the belief that it would be possible to shape the behavior of countries around lines of correct actions can actually become part of the problem. Since it would be necessary to define a common starting point localized at beginning of the 21th Century to such decision to take place. Thus, in the world of multilateral politics, where everyone is guided by their own interests, ethical and moral discourses become as well the results of strategic calculations.

This can thus not be the only possible way forward. A more realistic view may help identify different and perhaps more appropriate solutions to the problems of climate change. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have a very important role to play at this juncture. They are the most interested in unlocking again the negotiation process. The SIDS are the ones most negatively affected by the rising sea level and frequency of extreme weather events. They are therefore the “historical actors” of the current moment in time that should take on the difficult task of re-starting the negotiation process for the taking of radical and effective binding provisions. Yet, this is only one part of what needs to be done, as it is even more critical that the decisions lead to implementation of what has been agreed as well as to further deepen the discussion on how to move forward as to adopt a civilization project entirely different to the one we have in place today.

So, how would this be possible? By accepting that multilateralism is based on realpolitik rather than ethics, we may think of other spaces for action. This is because power relations, in this scenario, become less concealed. And that the main components of national power tend to be the same for all nations, being: Geography, Population, Economic Development, Leadership Skills and Diplomacy. Moreover, as defined in the theory, the single most important element for the establishment, maintenance and strengthening of national power is diplomacy.

As a group made up of 52 countries, SIDS have a higher potential in the international arena than one might think. If coordination improves as well as the total number of highly qualified negotiators. Despite their diversity, which includes oil-producing countries, lead to act as jointly as possible is one of the greatest assets to restart negotiations in other terms. And certainly by increasing significantly the number of diplomats and skilled civil servants of each of the bloc countries to follow comfortably and with minuteness all environmental agendas. Thus, transforming the SIDS in diplomacy societies.

As the universal values of ethics, justice and equality tend to produce few concrete results, it is necessary to build those state and social capacities. Yet, the SIDS need to be empowered as to challenge the imbalance of power among nations and our current civilization model, based on consumerism, obsolescence and disposability of goods, excess of work and lack of time to relate to the world and the people with whom we live together.


Carlos Potiara Castro. Visiting Scholar, School of Communication and the Centre for Advanced Multidisciplinary Studies, University of Brasilia (

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