Russia warns UN of “eroding transparency” at climate talks

Senior official in Environment Department says ‘sovereign rights’ of countries must be respected at UN talks

Russia diplomat Oleg Shamanov protests at the end of the 2012 UNFCCC talks

Russia diplomat Oleg Shamanov protests at the end of the 2012 UNFCCC talks

By Ed King

Russia has called for radical changes to the way the UN makes decisions at climate change summits, two weeks before the next meeting opens in Warsaw.

A letter sent to the UN by Alexander Frolov, an official in the country’s environmental department, says “serious procedural and legal flaws” have multiplied over the past few years.

Frolov says “many countries” are “dissatisfied with procedural issues and poor transparency” and calls on officials at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to ensure the sovereign rights of countries are respected.

“It is crucial we re-build confidence in the UNFCCC at this year’s COP to provide a strong foundation for the important decisions that countries are asked to make in Warsaw and in the coming years,” he writes.

Unlike other UN bodies, the UNFCCC comes to decisions through consensus, which is generally a judgement of the presiding officer and stands unless challenged.

Supporters of this form of decision-making maintain it is the most effective way of ensuring all countries end at an agreement that they can live with.

In 2011 Papua New Guinea and Mexico submitted a proposal to amend voting, allowing an exception to the default of consensus and permit decisions to be taken by a three-fourths majority. This has not been ratified by parties to the UNFCCC.

Growing frustration

Russia led angry protests at the end of the last two climate summits in 2011 and 2012 after its envoy Oleg Shamanov felt his views had been excluded from a final decision.

On both occasions the South African Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Al Attiyah believed they had the broad support of the 195 participating countries.

Russian anger at these decisions exploded during two weeks of talks in Bonn in May, and led to a key strand of negotiations collapsing.

At the time Shamanov told RTCC: “The parties who are blocking the process are those unwilling to admit a very simple truth – this process has to finally return to the legal framework and go on according to the rules of procedure.”

In the lead up to Warsaw, Russia has agreed to allow this set of talks to continue, but along with Ukraine and Belarus is set on pushing a new “initiative” trying to change the way decisions are made.

In an article for the IISD network on Monday, Shamanov said the “rule of law” should dominate all deliberations.

“Our initiative is a forward-looking one. It does not seek to overrule decisions already taken, no matter how dubious the legality of some of them may be. Rather, it is intended to guarantee the conduct of negotiations on a new agreement in conformity with the Rules of Procedure of the UNFCCC, the working practices of the United Nations system and international legal standards.”

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