UN Should Be Sidelined in Future Climate Talks, Says Obama Official
America sees a diminished role for the United Nations in trying to stop global warming after the "chaotic" Copenhagen climate change summit, an Obama administration official said today.
Jonathan Pershing, who helped lead talks at Copenhagen, instead sketched out a future path for negotiations dominated by the world's largest polluters such as China, the US, India, Brazil and South Africa, who signed up to a deal in the final hours of the summit. That would represent a realignment of the way the international community has dealt with climate change over the last two decades.
"It is impossible to imagine a global agreement in place that doesn't essentially have a global buy-in. There aren't other institutions beside the UN that have that," Pershing said. "But it is also impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in all the detail."
Pershing said the flaws in the UN process, which demands consensus among the international community, were exposed at Copenhagen. "The meeting itself was at best chaotic," he said, in a talk at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We met mostly overnight. It seemed like we didn't sleep for two weeks. It seemed a funny way to do things, and it showed."
The lack of confidence in the UN extends to the $30bn (£18.5bn) global fund, which will be mobilised over the next three years to help poor countries adapt to climate change.
"The UN didn't manage the conference that well," Pershing said. "I am not sure that any of us are particularly confident that the UN managing the near-term financing is the right way to go."
Pershing did not exclude the UN from future negotiations. But he repeatedly credited the group of leading economies headed by America for moving forward on the talks, including on finance and developing green technology. He suggested the larger forum offered by the UN was instead important for countries such as Cuba or the small islands which risk annihilation by climate change to air their grievances.
"We are going to have a very very difficult time moving forward and it will be a combination of small and larger processes," he said.
The first test of the accord agreed by America, China, India, South Africa and Brazil arrives on 31 January, the deadline for countries to commit officially to actions to halt global warming. Here, too, Pershing indicated the focus would be narrower in scope than the UN's all-inclusive approach. "We expect there will be significant actions recorded by major countries," he said. "We are not really worried what Chad does. We are not really worried about what Haiti says it is going to do about greenhouse gas emissions. We just hope they recover from the earthquake."
Key groups of developing countries are to meet this month to try to explore ways to get to agree a binding agreement.
As the dust settles on the stormy Danish meeting, environment ministers from the so-called Basic countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – will meet on 24 January in New Delhi. No formal agenda has been set, but observers expect the emerging geopolitical alliance between the four large developing countries who brokered the final "deal" with the US in Denmark will define a common position on emission reductions and climate aid money, and seek ways to convince other countries to sign up to the Copenhagen accord that emerged last month.
Fewer than 30 countries out of the 192 who are signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which organised Copenhagen, have indicated that they will sign. Many are known to be deeply unhappy with the $100bn pledged for climate aid and the decision not to make deeper cuts in emissions.
Under UN laws, consensus is required. There is confusion over the legal standing of the agreement reached in Copenhagen and many countries may not be in a position to sign up by 31 January because they have yet to consult their parliaments.
Meanwhile, Bolivia, one of a handful of poor countries which openly opposed the deal in Copenhagen, has invited countries and non-governmental groups which want a much stronger climate deal to the World Conference of the People on Climate Change.
Pershing said that he had told some of those leaders that there was no prospect of reaching a stronger deal that would limit warming to 1.5 degrees.
The conference, to be held in Cochabamba in Bolivia from 20-22 April, is expected to attract heads of state from the loose alliance of socialist "Alba" countries, including Venezuela and Cuba. Alba, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America countries, was set up to provide an alternative to the US-led free trade area of the Americas.
Bolivia this week urged leaders of the world's indigenous ethnic groups and scientists to come. "The invitation is to heads of state but chiefly to civil society. We think that social movements and non government groups, people not at decision level, have an important role in climate talks," said Maria Souviron, the Bolivian ambassador in London.
The meeting, which is intended to cement ties between the seven Alba countries, is also expected to pursue the idea of an international court for environmental crimes, as well as the radical idea of "mother earth rights". This would give all entities, from man to endangered animal species, an equal right to life.
"Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity," said Morales in a speech at Copenhagen. "We are here to save mother earth. Our objective is to reduce climate change to [under] 1C. [Above this] many islands will disappear and Africa will suffer a holocaust. The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model."