Rumoured US proposal to pull climate change talks out of UN slammed

By John Parnell

US suggestions that the UN climate talks are not the best arena to address climate change just over a week before the next round of negotiations start in Doha have been branded “unhelpful” and “provocative”.

News agency EurActiv reports that Washington is increasingly keen to see some elements of the UN talks shifted to the 19-member Major Economies Forum (MEF).

The MEF’s members, which include Australia, the EU, China and India account for 85% of the world’s emissions. However, talks at this forum would sideline the most vulnerable with Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries omitted. These two groups frequently push for greater ambition at the climate talks.

EurActiv has confirmed that the US would find this setting for the talks more comfortable, and observers RTCC has spoken to believe this is a predictable tactic from a US negotiating team keen to deflect attention away from their limited pledges.

“The way the US consistently frame these outside efforts as more important than the UNFCCC process, is unhelpful,” said Liz Gallagher, senior policy advisor with the consultancy E3G.

Gallagher believes discussions that undermine the UNFCCC play into the hands of some developing nations that will look to continue the Long-term Co-operative Action (LCA) track of negotiations and prolong the rich-poor firewall that was essentially removed during the talks in Durban. These tactics could play into the hands of other delegations in Doha.

US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern has touted the country’s participation in complementary measures widely. (Source: Flickr/Center for American Progress)

“These kind of statements are provocative and unnecessary timing wise, and could potentially undermine the US’s core interests in the Doha outcome, i.e. closing down the LCA talks.

“Everybody knows that the UNFCCC is the framework, but it’s really important that other complimentary initiatives takes place, but report back inside. The Convention doesn’t have incentivise everything but it must all be reported back through it,” said Gallagher.

The US did not take part in the Kyoto Protocol, which was legally binding to developed nations only, without the participation of major developing economies, particularly China.

At the UN talks last year, all 195 Parties to the convention, including China, agreed to begin work on a new globally binding deal that must be agreed by 2015.

“The one and only place where formal negotiations and, above all, decisions take place and where treaties are negotiated is the UNFCCC,” Figueres told EurActiv.

“Should governments change that, that’s of course the purview of government, but I don’t see any government – including the government of the US – currently with the intent of changing that,” Figueres added.

The US has long preached the value of so-called complementary measures, using them in Durban to deflect questions on its ambition at the UN talks. Prior to the 2009 talks in Copenhagen President Obama praised pledges made through the MEF holding them up as examples of US commitment to combating climate change.

Gallagher encourages the development of these additional measures but insist that they run in parallel to the UN talks blaming bad communication for the mixed messages sent by the US delegation.

“I guess it’s more calamity than conspiracy. The US negotiators Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing are not always clear when they make statements and things often get misinterpreted,” said Gallagher.

“It’s time for some fresh blood, not just in the US delegation, but within the negotiations as a whole. We need some new faces who don’t carry the Copenhagen baggage and can help rebuild the trust and relationships required to get a 2015 deal.”

RTCC Video: UNFCCC boss Christiana Figueres on Kyoto 2, China and the US

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