From Paris to Vienna?
The Paris Agreement that entered into force on 4 November 2016 is an important step in the direction of limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5oC, but not more than a step. To make it happen, countries will have to do more than they have pledged to do so far. The global stocktake that will take place every five years, will not suffice to make them do that. Major efforts will be needed to stimulate governments to increase their commitments, to help them to implement them and to prevent free-riding. Part of this will have to be done at a global level, but for practical reasons, what can be done at the regional level, should be done at the regional level.
Maybe some new institutions will have to be set up for that purpose, but where possible use should be made of existing institutions. An organisation that seems well equipped to play a more active role in this field is the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE recognizes the close connection between environmental issues and security and has therefore set up a framework for discussing economic and environmental issues, consisting of three forums: an annual Economic and Environmental Forum, a yearly Implementation Meeting “to assess progress to assess the implementation of economic and environmental commitments by the OSCE participating States and to identify priorities for future work” and the monthly Economic and Environmental Committee, a subsidiary body of the Permanent Council of the OSCE.
In addition the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA) supports a wide range of environmental projects and activities, mainly in South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia. These projects concern inter alia sustainable use of water, energy security, disaster reduction, climate change and management of hazardous waste. Furthermore a network of 60 Aarhus Centers in 14 OSCE participating States addresses environmental issues, inter alia by promoting public participation in environmental decision-making. All this is done in close cooperation with the development and environment programmes of the UN (UNDP and UNEP), the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC).
The OSCE is therefore well positioned to take up a larger role in the environmental field. That is not to say that it will be easy. Environmental threats are quite different from military threats and often require different approaches. This will require intellectual flexibility from delegations, capitals and secretariat. However, these difficulties are peanuts in comparison to the challenges posed by climate change.