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Negotiating the future

By Ioan Voicu - posted Friday, 28 March 2008

The consequences of climate change as a global issue cannot be negotiated with ambiguous plans and intentions. It is an extremely difficult field to explore, as it is in the sphere of prophesy, projection, prediction, planning and promise.

All these aspects were abundantly illustrated by the statements made in September 2007 at the New York session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the largest-ever high-level diplomatic gathering on this issue, with participants from over 150 countries, including some 70 heads of state and government present.

Further evidence came from 187 countries attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007. The conference adopted the Bali Action Plan, a roadmap for negotiating global pollution cuts after 2012.


It was decided to launch a comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order to reach an agreed outcome and a shared vision on the matter. It includes a long-term global goal for emission reductions, in accordance with the principle of common, but differentiated, responsibilities and capabilities. A new comprehensive legal instrument has to be drafted, negotiated and completed for adoption by 2009 so that all states can ratify it in time.

During a new marathon debate in the UN General Assembly in February 2008, 115 speakers took the floor. That was an additional testimony to the importance of taking immediate practical measures to cope with the formidable challenges of climate change.

The fundamental question was: how can the UN turn awareness of climate change into a coherent program to effectively support the Bali Action Plan?

The UN itself will have a crucial role to play in implementing such a program, including a negotiation calendar, in particular through the obligations deriving from the UNFCCC as a universal legal instrument already offering the basis for a great variety of actions. It is expected that the final UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 will do more by adopting a comprehensive, global and long-term framework for climate change.

All debates dealing with adaptation, mitigation, technology and financing in the area of climate change had the undisputable merit of conveying a strong message that this global issue must remain one of the top priorities. However, the debates could not offer a pragmatic answer to the critical question about how to translate a collective political will into effective commitments to implement the roadmap of negotiations approved in Bali.

Many delegations urged the UN to promote integrated partnerships and approaches with all interested stakeholders, in particular the private sector and local authorities. The private sector can be instrumental in fostering innovation, developing and transferring new technologies, leveraging green investment and helping people change their attitudes about these issues.


Some developed countries announced their intention to provide fresh financing and enhance the roles of international financial institutions and the private sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Accelerating technology transfers to developing countries and securing sufficient financing for adaptation and mitigation were considered by many states imperative urgent tasks.

A dynamic diplomacy

Negotiating workable solutions for the tasks mentioned above is not easy. Developing countries believe they have contributed the least to climate change, while developed countries have enjoyed high levels of consumption that have led to a dangerous situation. Many developing countries describe themselves as environmental creditors of developed countries. That status has created a moral and environmental debt that must be repaid. Consequently, the negotiation process cannot be strictly limited to the Bali roadmap.

The Group of 77 (132 countries) and China believe that discussions should be placed within the proper context of sustainable development. In their opinion, deliberations on the matter must reinforce the promotion of sustainable development, highlighting its three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection. All three have to be negotiated in an integrated, co-ordinated and balanced manner.

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First published in the Bangkok Post on March 23, 2008.

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About the Author

Dr Ioan Voicu is a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok

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