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22nd May 2022

EU leaders look outside UN to push forward climate talks

  • UN climate negotiations in Cophenhagen were bogged down by a bitter battle between rich and poor countries (Photo: Image.net)

European Union leaders have for the first time officially endorsed moving beyond the United Nations in order to push forward the international climate negotiations process.

At the EU's spring summit, the bloc's premiers and presidents embraced the G20 as a possible forum more amenable to climate discussions than the UN process, long bogged down by mistrust between rich and poor countries, while at the same time not completely abandoning the UN as some in the US have called for.

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While stressing that the European Council "remains firmly committed" to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the conclusions of the EU summit also say: "It supports ongoing efforts to make it more effective."

"It is it is now necessary to bring a new dynamic to the international negotiation process."

"Given the short time available before Cancun, this process could usefully be complemented and supported by discussions in other settings and on specific issues."

The EU will address "climate change at all regional and bilateral meetings, including at summit level as well as other fora such as the G20."

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters after the summit that such a configuration could involve a somewhat expanded G20: "I believe we need to find a new way, perhaps with a larger group of the G20 to bring the talks together."

The UN process has been the site of an extended and often extremely bitter battle.

Many poor countries, notably the G77 group of developing nations, have consistently argued that it is not the process that is ineffective, but rather rich countries' reluctance to commit to stronger emissions reductions and deliver substantial finance to help the global south move toward a low-carbon development path that is frustrating the negotiation process.

Wealthy nations for their part complain that the conflict is instead an unnecessary quarrel over procedure and accuse their opponents, particularly left-wing governments in Latin America and some African nations, of attempting to hijack the UN process for their own alleged anti-capitalist agenda.

Ever since the Copenhagen meeting in December failed to deliver a binding international agreement, but instead the ‘Copenhagen Accord', a controversial document cobbled together in back-rooms outside the UN process, analysts have predicted that the wealthy nations would start to look toward other fora where the developing countries that are closer to Northern perspectives are welcomed alongside the major emitters of the Global South, notably China and India, but where presence of the ‘awkward squad' of countries is avoided.

Both Jonathan Pershing, America's chief negotiator, and US climate envoy Todd Stern have said that the UN should be sidelined.

The EU summit is the first time the bloc has formally announced its stance on the UN process, a two-track undertaking that involves on the one hand a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol and on the other work towards a framework that would ultimately replace the protocol involving all the countries of the world.

In a more diplomatic nuance on the US position, the EU is saying that it backs the UN process at the same time as looking to other fora.

At the end of February, the UN announced further talks will take place in Bonn from 9-11 April. Ahead of the talks, a number of countries issued submissions to the UN regarding what they expected the work plan for 2010 would be, a series of documents that kicked off the whole process debate all over again.

The US said it was looking toward binding reductions from "all major economies", a demand that runs counter to the language of the Kyoto Protocol, and that it viewed the Copenhagen Accord as the "basis of an agreed outcome." The American submission makes no mention of the two-track UN process.

China and India's submissions meanwhile downplayed the importance of the Copenhagen Accord, even while they were two of the original drafters of the document.

China said the "political agreement in the Copenhagen Accord may be considered and where appropriate, be translated into texts that can be incorporated," while India said it views the accord simply as a way to facilitate the two-track process.

Washington responded sharply by saying: "Those involved in the development of the accord negotiated in good faith with the intention that it would result in an agreed outcome in Copenhagen, and understood it to be a package."

Beneath the diplomatic language of the EU summit conclusions, European leaders are trying to perform a perhaps impossible balancing act that tries to win the US to a stronger emissions reduction pledge, regains the trust of developing countries and pushes the major emitters of the south to embrace binding emissions reductions.

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