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UN remains only legitimate climate forum

By Ethan Bowering - posted Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Critics of the UN climate negotiations are out in force following the recent summit in Durban. They are calling for its abandonment in favour of climate leadership outside the UN, despite the fact that it remains the only legitimate forum for climate negotiations.

In light of theperceived inability of the most recent conferences in Durban, Cancun and Copenhagen to reach an inclusive, legally binding agreement, there is a spreading loss of confidence in the existing order among the international community.

Some even fear a regime collapse.


This is often blamed on layered bureaucracy. Bennett Bernstein in American Foreign Policy says that the UN climate negotiations are being held hostage to the whims of every small nation represented.

Others have argued that to achieve consensus amongst the world’s largest emitters, climate change negotiations will need to be moved to an alternative forum without the theatrics and formal bureaucracy of the UN.

Greg Hunt, the Australian Opposition Minister for Climate Action claims that shifting negotiations to the G20 would result in a more effective agreement between the world’s largest emitters. Excluding Turkey and Argentina, the remaining eighteen members are among the top twenty carbon emitters.

Todd Stern, the Special Climate Envoy for the United States, alternatively suggests the formation of an ‘E8’ made up of the world’s eight largest emitters.

Similar calls have been made for the seventeen-member Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate to take the lead.

However, a minilateral forum which just includes the major emitters is likely to result in a self-serving outcome.


But minilateral groupings within the UN process itself hold great promise if structure correctly.

The Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action is a perfect example of how states are coming together to discuss innovative solutions to the climate crisis within the existing climate regime.

The Group is an informal negotiating space that fluctuates between thirty and forty developed and developing progressive ‘middle’ nations. The Group offers the opportunity for countries to engage in frank discussions, discuss positions, and search for areas of convergence. At last year’s negotiations in Cancun, it was a critical part of forging an outcome.

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About the Author

Ethan Bowering is a Prime Ministers Australia Asia Endeavour Award Scholar, and is currently studying environmental policy at Griffith University.

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