Green diplomacy

Deepti Mahajan Mittal :
In the past, the country was listed amongst those with a high carbon and ecological footprints. But as the government seeks to take strides in renewable energy (RE) innovation and resource conservation, the country is also giving due attention to enhancing its global image. Public diplomacy which involves engaging and influencing international public audiences, including even local populations, is a strategic tool that can create a conducive environment for the pursuit of strategic political and socio-economic objectives. The UAE is deploying it well to raise its profile as a thought leader in environmental diplomatic quarters and as an investment destination. The country seeks to establish itself as a champion of sustainable development, despite being an economy that is dependent on fossil fuel exports for a large share of its revenue.
The ADSW is not a singular effort. Today, the UAE houses the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the first inter-governmental organisation with its secretariat in a West Asian country. This itself is a result of a concerted diplomatic effort, and has marked the UAE as a nerve centre on the map of multilateral initiatives in sustainable energy. In 2009, Germany and Austria, the other contenders in the bid to house the headquarters, withdrew their candidature and agreed to host satellite institutional centres.
The IRENA headquarters have made Abu Dhabi a hub for international dialogues on renewable energy that engage a repertoire of diplomats, technocrats, scientists and environmental thinkers and activists. At the same time, the UAE government has worked to map and develop RE resources domestically and promote RE projects abroad. The country has particularly highlighted the RE development potential offered by islands. A number of island nations are wholly dependent on fossil fuel imports for meeting their energy requirements, and renewable energy development can offer an alternative.
The UAE has sponsored small RE projects in Seychelles and Tonga. It has also established funds offering concessional loan facilities for Pacific islands and for IRENA developing countries. These programmes not only strengthen the UAE’s political and economic ties with these countries but also generate public goodwill. In today’s information environment where there is a proliferation of sources, well-designed and well-implemented public diplomacy initiatives have helped the country formulate and enhance its image as a supporter of public welfare and international sustainable development.
One important advantage of public diplomacy efforts is that these initiatives speak to political leaders and bureaucrats along with the larger community of investors, business persons, civil society activists and world citizens. In some cases, direction of messages from a government to international public audiences can cut through the hostility prevalent in counterpart bureaucracies. It can go a long way in informing and altering public opinion – the diplomatic genius that made Vladimir Putin “speak directly to” Barack Obama and the American people through a New York Times Op-ed at the height of the Syrian crisis in 2013.
On the other hand, public diplomacy efforts are often criticised for being akin to manipulative public relations exercises. This view finds its genesis in the very real possibility of states deploying such initiatives to lend credence to misinformation in the game of diplomatic one-upmanship and to garner legitimacy for unpopular foreign policy objectives.
Yet public diplomacy, including instances such as the UAE’s support to overseas RE projects and facilitation of multilateral dialogues, remains crucial to a country’s international public profile. What is being served is the cause of environmental awareness, business-to-business linkages and scientific advancement. Like individuals and corporations, states too need to invest in building perceptions through action-oriented programmes and wider communication of policies. The UAE’s green diplomacy is geared towards these objectives and has the potential to further yield scientific, developmental and economic ?dividends.
(The author is an international affairs and energy analyst based in Dubai)