For the past few years, Wageningen University & Research has been offering a special master's track: Sustainable Development Diplomacy (SDD). It is a track within the master's programmes Climate Studies (MCL), Environmental Sciences (MES), Forest and Nature Conservation (MFN) and International Development Studies (MID). The track was designed in cooperation with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, Cambridge, Mass., USA, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Sustainability Challenge Foundation. The purpose of the programme is to enable Wageningen students to have a combination of theory and practice of international diplomacy and negotiation, so as to better understand, analyse and tackle the world’s sustainability challenges.
The reasons for this master's track are (at least) threefold: academic, normative and pragmatic. Firstly, new types of diplomacy seems to emerge on – amongst others – sustainability issues, sometimes referred to as the ‘new’ diplomacy, ‘inclusive’ diplomacy, ‘informal’ diplomacy or ‘guerilla’ diplomacy. However, the nature of this ‘new’ diplomacy is neither well understood nor are its claims rigorously tested. Academic research and teaching are therefore badly needed. Secondly, current global issues – climate change, deforestation, desertification, food shortages, etc. – are challenging the world’s organisational and institutional capacity to address them. In fact, we appear to be confronted today not with a single crisis, but with multiple ones. Governments alone are not capable of moving towards these objectives. New ways of diplomacy, involving actors other than governments, are therefore urgently needed. Thirdly, many alumni of Wageningen University & Research continue their careers at international negotiation institutions, such as the EU or the UN. They may also become involved in sustainability conflicts. Yet they are neither educated in knowledge and theories of negotiations and diplomacy nor trained in related skills. This master's track fills this gap.
The recent, rapid acceleration of multiple, interconnected, global issues – climate change, deforestation, desertification, food shortages, etc. – is overwhelming the world’s organizational and institutional capacity to address them. In fact, we appear to be confronted today not with a single crisis, but with a crisis of multiple crises – not just a financial crisis, a climate crisis, a forests crisis, a food crisis, an ecological crisis, a developmental crisis - all of these, and maybe even more. The international community has agreed, since the Rio Summit in 1992, that Sustainable Development should be the road all nations should travel as we navigate out of these crises. So we need to meet the current generations’ needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as the Brundtland commission pointed out in 1987. This statement implies both intra- and intergenerational equity as well as the maintenance of the carrying capacity of the earth. Yet governments alone are not capable of engaging in the negotiations of diplomacy and creating the institutions of governance that are required to move towards these objectives.
New ways of diplomacy and new innovative governance arrangements seem needed to better attain these goals. Yet the first contours of such a new diplomacy are emerging. Non-state actors are now allowed to play their roles in international diplomacy (think about environmental NGOs and their impact on international treaties), whereas private instruments to address sustainability issues are emerging (e.g. certification schemes for sustainable forest management). We call this Sustainable Development Diplomacy (SDD). In an ideal world, SDD is characterized, according to scholars from both Fletcher and WU, by a number of principles that the new diplomats should inspire:
- Recognize that most environmental, social and economic problems are symptoms of ‘deeper’ unsustainable practices (underlying causes).
- Assemble the best available scientific, economic and political knowledge and information to identify these underlying causes (evidence-based).
- Consult those who are directly affected and engage state and non-state actors in the solution process (multi-actor).
- Identify the levels of political organization where intervention is most acceptable and governance will be most effective (subsidiarity).
- Recognize additional issues that intersect the topic of concern and identify an approach for mobilizing support from other treaty regimes, governments and non-state actors to achieve the stated goals (policy coordination).
- Create an agreement that produces added value for all – or at least for most of those involved and affected – without being naïve on power inequalities, strategic behavior and underlying conflicts (mutual gains).
- Develop a structure for a regime that is compatible with the complexity and scope of the issue (compatibility).
- Develop a living, flexible instrument that is able to respond to new information and to societal and ecological trends (adaptive governance).