The European Union has a responsibility to implement best climate practices at home and export them globally. To this end, the EU should take a direct and forceful approach under the revised and updated Responsibility to Protect (R2P 2.0) to hold accountable persons and entities that recklessly magnify the climate disasters in ecologically fragile regions.
From the “dark orange apocalyptic skies” in the Middle East to the dried rivers with cracked bottoms in Europe, a melancholic new normal is here. The Yale School of the Environment has summarised the signs for the age of the Anthropocene in Europe: “the straightening of once-wild rivers, deforestation, damming, industrial pollution, wastewater discharges, and agriculture’s usurpation of shorelines and wetlands has made Europe’s rivers all the more susceptible to heat waves and low-water conditions, as well as floods.” Environmental degradation beyond Europe has broader causes, namely the enormous population density surrounding the prime water resources and ongoing conflicts stemming from poor governance, weak institutions, and myopic leadership.
Egypt offers a paradigmatic example. In the absence of good governance, strong institutions and foresight leadership, the Egyptian population soared from 45 million in the 1980s to more than 107 million in January 2023, of which around 95 percent are clustered in areas along the Nile River’s floodplain. Just four percent of Egypt’s land is suitable for agriculture, a figure that is shrinking quickly due to a wave of urban and suburban development accompanying the population growth. Nasem Badreldin, a digital agronomist at the University of Manitoba, told NASA’s Earth Observatory in December 2021 that “Egypt is losing about 2 percent of its arable land per decade due to urbanisation, and the process is accelerating.” He warned that Egypt would face serious food security problems if this trend continued. To add fuel to the fire, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned Egypt’s food supply struggle into an existential threat to the domestic economy, political stability, and human security, as 85 percent of its wheat and 73 percent of its sunflower oil come from Russia and Ukraine. However, this existential threat is not limited to Egypt; other African and even non-African countries will face similar ordeals if they lack the trio of good governance, strong institutions and foresight leadership.
From unprecedented drought in the North to the mass wildfires in the South last summer, Europe has also proved not to be immune from the damaging effects of climate change. Since temperatures in Europe have risen faster than on any other continent over the past 30 years, these effects will undoubtedly continue to hit Europe hard. Against this backdrop, the European Union (EU) “plans to become the world’s first carbon-neutral bloc by 2050. Its Green Deal pledges a spend of one trillion euros in sustainable investments by 2030 as well as a series of actions for sectors including construction, biodiversity, energy, transport, and food production. Its adaptation strategy also sets out a long-term vision for the EU to become a climate-resilient society, fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change by 2050.”
By all means, these pledges under the EU’s Green Deal stem from good governance, strong institutions, and foresight leadership in Europe. These elements, however, must be extended to adjacent countries, regions and beyond. Authored by 44 leading researchers, the 2022 Europe Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change concluded that “As the world’s third largest economy and a major contributor to global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, Europe is a key stakeholder in the world’s response to climate change and has a global responsibility and opportunity to lead the transition to becoming a low-carbon economy and a healthier, more resilient society.” The idea of global responsibility is vital in demonstrating Europe’s role in fighting against global warming and the climate change as a whole, including the effects beyond its borders. This makes all the more sense given that mitigation strategies have global rather than just local effects. Europeans are leading the way in significant local and global efforts and, accordingly, are exporting top-down climate-centred norms and standards to the rest of the world while broadly supporting bottom-up climate activism in other regions and continents. Nonetheless, the influence Europe should exert goes beyond these efforts. Good governance, strong institutions, and foresight leadership must be Europe’s top three exporting priorities to the rest of the world. To be sure, Europe’s success at these features is far from complete, as the recent Qatar corruption scandal at the European Parliament shows. Yet more significantly, Europe’s long advocation of these three characteristics has been primarily non-binding and diplomatic; the severity of climate situation, as this piece endeavours to depict, however, requires a more direct and forceful European-led approach for that projection, which I take the liberty of labelling R2P 2.0.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is an UN-developed, globally accepted norm that seeks to ensure that the international community never again fails to halt the mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. R2P stipulates three pillars of responsibility: (1) Every state has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from the four aforementioned mass atrocity crimes. (2) The wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual states in meeting that responsibility. (3) If a state is manifestly failing to protect its population, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter.
While the conception behind R2P intended to shift the debate from intervention toward a responsibility to protect, this phrase is often believed to be a misnomer and the norm maintains its notoriety in the minds of the public and elite globally. Notwithstanding the misconception, R2P possesses the means for both hard and soft security. For the former, Qaddafi’s Libya amid the Arab Spring was the first case where the UN Security Council authorised a military intervention citing R2P. Mobilising a broad interpretation of the concept, the global community is committed to responding to dangers against human survival, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, and ideology. The response can be passive – directed at natural disasters – or active – targeted at specific persons and entities, be it a leader or institution, that places human security and safety in peril by degrading environment.
From this interpretation emerges the concept of R2P 2.0. Given the implications of climate change, R2P 2.0 underscores the global responsibility of individuals, countries, transnational entities, and international institutions to protect people worldwide against natural and man-made perils. While collective efforts are underway to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate-induced dangers, the man-made climate risks stemming from poor governance, weak institutions, and myopic leadership have largely remained untouched. As the Lancet’s report contended, the EU has a global responsibility to fight climate change which can be realised through the framework of R2P 2.0.
R2P 2.0 urges the EU to implement best practices at home and export them globally. However, in top priority regions, namely the Middle East and North Africa, where people’s displacement, due to climate change, poses an imminent threat to Europe’s integrity and social fabric, the EU needs to take a forceful approach to hold accountable persons and entities that recklessly magnify the climate disaster. Climate sanctions against foreign persons and entities could be a new instrument the EU is capable of introducing to the world, embellishing its climate toolkit. This is one effective example, but one can add more to the toolkit.
The trio of good governance, strong institutions, and foresight leadership in countries and regions is prerequisite to successful climate mitigation and adaptation. The EU has demonstrated its resolve to contain climate change at home. But the Union has a global responsibility and capability to protect humans and the planet from climate disaster more widely. In the era of the Anthropocene, EU’s efforts through diplomacy and activism must be coupled with direct and forceful action to establish and reinforce good governance, strong institutions, and foresight leadership in countries and regions where this trio is largely lacking, and where environmental and human security are jeopardised accordingly. R2P 2.0 can enable the EU to have influential moral and geopolitical footprints and intervene in territories where leadership and institutional negligence in climate responsibility risks lives and increases the potential for disaster.
In a couple of articles throughout 2023, I will share my thoughts with the GDL community and the broader audience on the nuances of the R2P 2.0, how the EU can exercise it and what specific items the Union’s toolkit should entail.
GDL does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of GDL, its staff, or its members.
About the author:
Mahmoud Javadi is a research fellow at the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), affiliated with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is also active in state-funded think-tanks across the country.
Published on February 23, 2023.
Photo Credit: Markus Spiske
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 When I first introduced the concept of ‘R2P 2.0’ in the GDL’s Water Diplomacy Impact Lab in Ljubljana last August, a former senior leader of Slovenia reacted swiftly, linking R2P to military intervention.
 Thakur, R. (2010). The United Nations, Peace and Security: From Collective Security to the Responsibility to Protect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (chapter 3).