The United Nations bowed to intensifying pressure on Monday to start sweeping reforms of its processes for reaching agreement on climate change.
Developed and developing countries have condemned the bureaucratic and unwieldy process of reaching unanimous agreement from 192 countries, which many blamed for the chaotic end of the Copenhagen climate change conference at the weekend.
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, acknowledged the problems and promised: “We will consider how to streamline the negotiations process. We will also look at how to encompass the full context of climate change and development in the negotiations, both substantively and institutionally. Early next year, I will establish a high-level panel on development and climate change to strategically address such issues.”
Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, led the calls for reform on Monday, saying: “What happened at Copenhagen was a flawed decision-making process.”
He attacked, without naming, the small group of countries that prevented the formal adoption of the accord. The group is known to include Venezuela, Bolivia and Sudan.
Ed Miliband, the British climate secretary, also blamed China on Monday for the outcome, as China had vetoed two important commitments that other countries wanted left in.
In Brussels, policymakers echoed the same complaints about the UN procedures and pledged to do more work at regional and bilateral levels in order to minimise future diplomatic choke points. Privately, many countries and even some UN insiders were also saying drastic reform of the UN process was the only way to ensure success in turning the accord reached in Copenhagen into a legally binding treaty.
The diplomatic effort on climate change is now focusing on this and on the crucial task in the next month of attempting to persuade countries to increase the level of the emissions cuts they have agreed. Targets on the cuts were left out of the Copenhagen accord, but must be submitted by January 31, 2010.
Many countries, including China and other emerging economies, have publicly agreed to a possible range of emissions reductions, and negotiators are now trying to persuade them to go to the top of the ranges.
Critics of the European Union also said on Monday that the chaotic final scenes of the talks laid bare the bloc’s limited clout on the world stage, as leading developing countries claimed to have struck a deal with the US at a meeting to which the EU was not invited. “This was a climate Waterloo for the EU,” said Axel Eggert, a climate specialist at Eurofer, a European steel industry trade group. “There was the motivation to be the clear driver in the negotiations, but they were more or less kicked out at the end.”
For much of the past year the EU has touted itself as the global leader in the fight against climate change. It was the first bloc to pass binding legislation to reduce its emissions and the first to pledge aid to developing nations to help them cope with the effects of rising temperatures.
The other remaining question is how the EU and the US deal with a more assertive China. They need China to give its backing to a legally binding treaty, which China is resisting. But as China has repudiated the idea of accepting financial assistance, diplomats have few levers with which to try to manoeuvre China into agreement.
One of those few, being talked about in Europe on Monday, is the idea of putting carbon-related import taxes on goods from countries left out of a legally binding treaty.
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