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UN climate talks "outdated" and a block on stopping global warming

The old-fashioned process of UN climate negotiations are obstructing attempts to reach any agreements on tackling global warming, says a new study.

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A mosaic of people's hands calling for world leaders to agree a deal to tackle climate change (Image by Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam)

Next week around 17,000 officials, 7,000 NGO representatives and 1,500 journalists will come together in Doha to try and push forward a legally binding deal on tackling climate change.
 
Many of the 190+ countries taking part agree global warming must be limited to less than two degrees in order to avoid damaging climate change, but they appear no closer to signing a deal than they were last year, or the year before…

For some observers this lack of progress is the fault of a bloated and outdated UN climate change summit.
 
Writing in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, a study led by Dr Heike Schroerder from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, argues delegations from some countries are increasing and over-powering smaller, poorer countries.
 
The first climate talks in 1995 saw 757 delegates, but that had jumped to 10,591 delegates by the Copenhagen summit in 2009.
 
What's more, continued attempts to seek the approval of every country is holding up UN climate talks to the detriment of poor countries, likely to be worst hit by climate change.

Read also: Limiting global warming to two degrees is "not impossible"
 
The study calls for a cap on delegation numbers and reform of the way the UN climate talks are run.
 
"The UN must recognise that these antiquated structures serve to constrain rather than compel co-operation on international climate policy. The time is long overdue for changes to institutions and structures that do not support decision-making and agreements," says Schroeder.
 
“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.”

Others have gone further and say the solution is to ditch the UN negotiations and break them down into smaller agreements between the major polluters.

Rather than an agreement to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees, as demanded by climate scientists and campaigners, smaller negotiations, dubbed "carbon clubs", would start from what each individual country is willing and able to offer, for example policies to help spread low-emission investment in developing countries.
 
"Negotiations begin with the “carbon club” and focus on policies that countries can reliably implement," explains professor David Victor, from Stanford University, in his book Global Warming Gridlock. He says negotiations should move away from abstract promises few governments look willing or able to meet. 
 
For example, he says, there is no reason why a trade deal between China and France on nuclear reactors could not form part of France's "carbon club" negotiations, given its potential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
 
Professor Victor says we should look to the example of trade negotiations like World Trade Organisation (WTO) as the model for climate negotiations.
 
For now most environmental campaigners and NGOs remain committed to making the UN climate talks work. But, another failure in Doha next week could see a shift in tactics.

"Politics is not about getting people to think alike, but about getting people who think differently to act alike," writes Roger Pielke Jr, from University of Colorado. "The climate issue will never be solved completely, but it's still possible for us to make things better or worse."

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