24 December 2009: G20 better forum for climate than UNFCCC

The lessons of Copenhagen are many and most of them make pretty grim reading. One that should be accepted is that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which every decision must be taken unanimously by 193 countries, is an impossible forum in which to make sufficient progress. The Copenhagen Accord was only noted, not formally accepted by the conference. Some governments did not support it – among them Cuba and Sudan. Anyone who objects that taking the focus away from the UNFCCC would represent a departure from democracy should consider how giving these particular governments a veto squares with democratic behaviour.

Nicholas Stern, author of the excellent Stern Review on the economics of climate change, has acknowledged that:

… the current UN framework convention on climate change process has been found wanting over the past few weeks. One potential way forward is for Mexico, as hosts of COP16 (the next full summit) in 2010, to convene a group of 20 representative nations, as Friends of the Chair, to work on a potential treaty and tackle the outstanding issues and building consensus around strong action. The group should start its work immediately.

(See guardian.co.uk: Copenhagen climate deal: Spectacular failure – or a few important steps?)

This would be a way to try to make next year’s UNFCCC conference less chaotic than Copenhagen. However, anything radical or substantial agreed by these ‘Friends’ would still almost certainly be blocked by a government. And any new grouping inevitably raises new arguments about who is in and who out. The Copenhagen Accord was drawn up by five countries: the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. This was good in that it bridged the divide between developed and developing countries, and all five are now major contributors to annual greenhouse gas emissions.  However,  in terms of historic contribution or annual per capita emissions they are not major, apart from the US (30% of 1850 to 2000 total, with 23.5 tones per capita per year) and China (7% of historic contribution, with 5.5 tonnes per capita per year – though much of this is to produce goods exported to the US and Europe). The major omissions in these respects were the EU (27%, 10.5 tonnes), Russia (8%, 13.7 tonnes) and Japan (4%, 10.5 tonnes).

The climate negotiations in 2010 should focus on money, not targets, and there is already an appropriate forum in which to do that: the G20. This consists of the finance ministers of 19 countries, plus the EU. It includes 16 of the top 20 current greenhouse polluters and also Turkey, which is 21st on list of current polluters, and Saudi Arabia, which is not a major polluter in terms of emissions from within Saudi Arabia, but clearly is in terms of the impact of what it exports.

The major polluting countries missing from the G20 are Spain, Poland, Ukraine and Iran. Spain holds the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2010, so will be present in that capacity, but should also be allowed to send someone to represent itself. Poland and Ukraine are both highly relevant in energy terms (see Poland – climate and energy statistics and Ukraine – climate and energy statistics), so should also be invited. Iran is also highly relevant in energy terms, but the inclusion of the Iranian government would inevitably mean that non-climate issues dominated. Therefore, the meetings should be, in diplomatic parlance, G20 plus 3.

The drawback of the G20 as a climate forum is that the next G20 Summit is in Canada, and the Canadian government does not appear to be serious about the climate. However, this is something that Barack Obama could influence as he has more leverage over Canada than he does over China (see Political and economic pressure may be the only solution for Canada). The G20 Summit after that is in South Korea, the country that is leading the way in improving its carbon productivity, and spending almost 80% of its stimulus package on energy efficiency and other environmental measures (see 26 September 2009: South Korea’s chance to lead). The Canadian Prime Minister and South Korean President have said that they will co-operate to make the G20 address climate change (The Korea Times: Korea, Canada to Cooperate in 2010 G20). Therefore, the most important event for climate control next year will not be in Mexico in December, but in South Korea in November.


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