Report: UN climate talks are too big and unwieldy

Research recommends capping delegate numbers

October 2012 brought above average temperatures to most of the globe. Graphic courtesy NASA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Large delegations from rich countries and a cumbersome decision-making process are hindering progress at the United Nations’ annual climate talks, according to research published last week by University of East Anglia and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

The report was timed to precede the 18th UN Climate Change Summit, which starts Nov. 26 in Doha, Qatar. The findings suggest that delegations from some countries have increased in size over the years, while others have decreased, limiting poor countries’ negotiating power and making their participation less effective.

“The UN must recognize that these antiquated structures serve to constrain rather than compel co-operation on international climate policy,” said Dr. Helke Schroeder, with the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development. “The time is long overdue for changes to institutions and structures that do not support decision-making and agreements.”

The researchers recommend that countries consider capping delegation numbers at a level that allows broad representation across government departments and sectors of society, while maintaining a manageable overall size.

“Poor countries cannot afford to send large delegations and their level of expertise usually remains significantly below that of wealthier countries. This limits poor countries’ negotiating power and makes their participation in each session less effective,” Schroeder said.

The researchers found that attendance has changed in terms of the number and diversity of representatives. The number of delegates went from 757 representing 170 countries at the first COP in 1995 to 10,591 individuals from 194 countries attending COP15 in 2009 – a 1400 per cent increase. At COP15 there were also 13,500 delegates from 937 non-government Observer organizations.

Small developing countries have down-sized their delegations while G-7 and +5 countries (Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa) have increased theirs. The exception is the United States, which after withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol started to send fewer delegates to COPs. The study also found an increase in participation by environmental, campaigning, academic and other non-Governmental organisations.

“Our work shows an increasing trend in the size of delegations on one side and a change in the intensity, profile and politicization of the negotiations on the other,” Schroeder explained. “These variations suggest the climate change issue and its associated interests are framed quite differently across countries. NSAs are well represented on national delegations but clearly the government decides who is included and who is not, and what the official negotiating position of the country and its level of negotiating flexibility are.”

Some countries send large representations from business associations (Brazil), local government (Canada) or science and academia (Russia).

For small developing countries such as Bhutan and Gabon the majority of government representatives come from environment, forestry and agriculture. The UK has moved from mainly environment, forestry and agriculture to energy and natural resources. The US has shifted from these more conventional areas to an overwhelming representation from the US Congress at COP15.

The research was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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