February 09, 2011
The U.N. Climate Negotiations’ Last Breath
The upcoming climate negotiations may be the last under the direction of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to some negotiators. The mood at the run-up to the negotiations, which are set to take place in Cancun, Mexico at the end of November, is largely austere as even negotiators recognize the increasing futility of the U.N. emissions reduction framework.
Last year's climate negotiations in Copenhagen were an outright failure, ending without the "comprehensive or legally binding" emissions treaty that climate advocates had hoped for. As Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have argued, the Copenhagen negotiations were contrived from the start, characterized by countries' empty promises of emissions reductions that they did not have the intention, nor the capabilities to fulfill.
And even the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who once spoke of the Copenhagen Accord as a monumental success and breakthrough for international climate cooperation, now acknowledges the contrivance that characterizes the UN framework. Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the NRDC, recently wrote of the run-up to Cancun:
" 'There is such a huge contrast between what countries are doing at home and what they say at these international negotiations,' he wrote. 'It is like living in a parallel universe where one side is talking in a made-up language.' "
Part of the problem, as the New York Times' Andy Revkin notes, is that it's difficult to "find a consensus among 192 variegated countries that doesn't require reams of waffle words and few firm steps."
Just as important, as the Breakthrough Institute has repeatedly argued, the fixation with targets and timetables detracts from the overarching and critical necessity of transforming and modernizing the global energy system in order to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Without a reframing of international climate negotiations, and a concerted and focused effort to drive global investment in clean energy, emissions reductions targets and promises will remain empty and unfulfilled.
This may be the last breath for climate negotiations under the UNFCCC, as negotiators grow increasingly frustrated and the public realizes the emptiness of promises made, but it remains to be seen if a necessary new framework, centered on clean energy investment and innovation, can take its place.