ABU DHABI // The world's largest economies should unilaterally forge their own global deals on climate change and put aside a "fruitless" UN negotiating process based on consensus, says a top US energy expert and adviser to Barack Obama, the US president.
Last December's talks in Copenhagen were successful in establishing general agreement between the US, China and other major carbon polluters on the need to cut emissions, but relying on the UN process to reach a final deal will only "waste five more years", Ernest Moniz, the director of the energy programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Negotiators will meet in Bonn, Germany, at the beginning of next month to resume talks through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and will assemble in Cancun, Mexico, in December at a high-level summit to try to craft a new international treaty.
"I think the road to Cancun will be very important in seeing whether enough countries succeed in … essentially putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, or if, despite that, the really large emitters come together and say 'look, we've got to get this agreed to first before we present it to the others'," said Mr Moniz, a member of Mr Obama's science and technology advisory panel. "There's still a lot of issues as to whether that grouping is going to materialise but the key issue is, is that going to be a pathway or are we going to revert to a fruitless 192-member consensus?"
Two weeks of talks at Copenhagen progressed slowly with drawn-out battles over almost every point of procedure and time allotted to each country to present remarks to the summit. Nonetheless, many leaders said it was crucial that every voice was heard on an issue that had global ramifications. Developing countries, led by Sudan, objected to the idea of a small group of countries pursuing an agreement behind closed doors and ultimately rejected the Copenhagen Accord, the agreement that came of the December talks, and called for the rise in global temperatures to be limited to 2°C.
The agreement was later signed by more than 100 countries, including the UAE. Mr Moniz noted that a handful of countries are responsible for most of the emissions and could start to tackle global warming much more quickly with their own bilateral agreements. Smaller countries, he said, should say, "'Look, we understand that with China, the US, the EU, you're talking there about more than 50 per cent of the emissions.' If they're on the same page what does it matter what the other 160 or so countries are going to do?"
The Group of 20 (G20) leading and emerging economies could offer one platform for the talks, Mr Moniz said. "If you go in the G20 format, you're in fact saying that finance ministers are in the lead," he said. "Some might say that maybe finance ministers can be more effective than environment ministers in negotiating a climate accord." The UAE in particular could play "an important role in the dialogue" to promote talks between big emitters, given its high profile as an oil producer investing in renewable energy, Mr Moniz said.
MIT helped set up the Masdar Institute, the graduate-level academy at Masdar City, which is the carbon-neutral development at the edge of the capital. "The two low-carbon pathways of most importance are energy efficiency and low-carbon electricity - they are the pieces that, as far as the material impact, will be the earliest to be implemented and the earliest to have a substantial impact," he said. "The Abu Dhabi emirate's activity in this domain aligns with these two priorities."