French is still commonly held as the international diplomatic language. But why shouldn't everyone just speak English? With just 80million native practitioners, and 220million secondary speakers, French is a fairly small language as international languages go. By contrast, Swahili has 115 million native speakers and around a quarter of the world's population speak English to some extent. As Africa's population increases massively and its Francophone economies rise in importance, so does French again. But for environmentalist French never lost significance. "La Francophonie", serves as the last Western resistance to a pure Anglophone diplomatic power play and unabashed neoliberalism. It has proved over time to be a bridge of sorts between many continents and cultures that is needed when we need to stand united. Today we need to stand united against global warming.
French diplomacy was again hailed as the world's best, in light of its tremendous success in getting nearly 195 nation states attending the Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 in Paris last December to agree and sign a global deal on climate change action. Much of the credit has been attributed to Mrs. Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador for climate negotiations who has been working tirelessly since 2014 to negotiate an international consensus on limiting CO2 emissions. The infamous number much debated amid COP 21 negotiations was 2 degrees Celsius, the absolute limit to how high global temperature can increase before society as we know it collapses into a climate disaster; scientists warn that once we cross over the 2 degrees limit, the planet's ecosystem could lose up to a third of its species, inhabited islands would risk going under water and climate events such as devastating heatwaves could completely mess up agricultural cycles and threaten coastal cities.
Against this apocalyptic scenario, it is no wonder that the COP 21 deal signed in Paris elicited praise and actual joy. Though much is still left to be had, COP 21 marked a historical turning point in global diplomacy- that there is hope for global unity in the fight against climate change impact.
The French hosts' tactic was, among other things, to nail down elements of discord between signatory countries and provide the right setting where delegates could express their opinions openly, unhindered, and by creating "indaba"-like group of elders, traditionally used in Zulu and Xhosa communities, where a larger group of delegates would convene to do away with left-over disagreement.
What was actually different from previous COPs, was that the 195 delegates and their teams were given an actual voice, as the French diplomats made efforts to ensure that communication went both ways. Inclusiveness proved to be the key in tackling a common action plan, as all nations seemed to share a somewhat similar goal.
One would think that the threat of climate change would be bipartisan and unite people, as we are all in the same boat, both rich and poor, irrespective of nationality. But the lenses nations use to look at international cooperation differ. National diplomacy strategies are usually focused on promoting one's interests against others' interests. By emphasizing the global "we" rather than the national "I" in the climate change debate, COP 21 proved to be a case in point for a change of lenses.
The impact of neoliberalism ideology on social norms and cultural constructs is a chapter in itself. Neoliberalism became the leading economic ideology in the US and in the UK during Ronald Reagan's and Margaret Thatcher's mandates. In this way, the leaders of the free world offered a viable solution to the economic crisis at the time: competition, deregulation, outsourcing, to name a few buzz words that have since become common place. Little did we understand how pervasive this revamped ideology would become. The debate on climate change has been tainted by its excessive concern with individual and national interests, short-termism, and lack of solidarity in face of global threats.
The case for French diplomacy goes beyond the success of COP 21 because it shows an alternative perspective to global governance, at least in the context of global warming. It is possible to cooperate for the common good, no matter what our nationalities or political and economic interests are. So in fear of being overly sentimental, French diplomacy could well be the best diplomacy in the world, if it is able to inspire a model of inter-state communication where global interests are safeguarded instead of playing a winner-takes-all game.
Humanity is undergoing a massive environmental crisis which is sweeping through the entire planet at an unprecedented scale, and it is also true that climate change acts as a common denominator for us being humans, not merely citizens; but looking at the scale of government efforts taken so far to alleviate the dangers of climate change has brought into question their will to engage in a clear action plan that goes beyond the short democratic elective horizons.
We could be entering a new age in diplomacy, forced rather than inspired by the need to be solidary in face of global natural forces. And there is plenty of room for change; switching to a different, more community-focused paradigm by sticking to diplomatic language that has solidarity at its core might be a place to start making change happen.