Former UN climate chief: Successful emissions deal needs just 10 countries

By John Parnell

A successful international deal on emissions cuts could be done with as few as 10 countries, according to a former head of the UN’s climate change agency.

Michael Zammit Cutajar, the founder of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said that the current negotiating blocs were entrenched in common history.

“You only need 10 perhaps 12 countries to do a deal on mitigation [emission cuts],” said Zammit Cutajar at a lecture organised by and hosted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

“The negotiating table is very large and it is difficult to negotiate with 190 plus parties at the table.”

Using the EU as a single party – as it is represented at the UN talks – along with India, China, Indonesia, South Korea, US, Japan, Russia, Mexico and Brazil, Zammit Cutajar said around 80% of global emissions could be incorporated.

“There is some sense in that argument but there is a risk that that could lead to a lack of ambition [from those asked to lower emissions] and a loss of legitimacy as a result of that group of ten presenting what they do to the other 180 parties of the convention,” warned Zammit Cutajar.

He also bemoaned the lack of action from the US Senate, the length of time that the Senate takes to be convinced by international legislation and the current ideological nature of discussions on climate change in the US.

“The US position on climate change has morphed into a sub-plot of the US and China position on the geopolitical stage. The result is a tendency to stand-off. They do both have a shared preference to not tie their hands with international treaties imposed from the top down,” he said.

Looking forward, Zammit Cutajar said he did not expect a climate deal in 2015 to be an “elegant solution” with countries assigned a proportion of a global carbon budget.

Instead he expects a strong push from climate vulnerable parties for more ambition and a set of negotiated pledges from each nation.

Zammit Cutajar said this would not be unlike the Kyoto Protocol’s initiation, but the significant difference would be the inclusion of all nations.

He also called on the private sector to lead the breakdown of “economic defensiveness” on climate action.

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