Climate Change, Environment, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, North America

ENVIRONMENT: U.S., U.N. Stage Dueling Climate Meets

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 13 2007 (IPS) - Are the United Nations and the United States trying to outdo each other by hosting two parallel summit meetings on the same subject – climate change – during the same week at the end of September?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is hosting a high-level meeting of world leaders on Sep. 24 in New York, while U.S. President George W. Bush has invited 20 of "the world&#39s largest polluting countries" to a summit in Washington Sep. 27-28.

"I believe the U.S. move is a very wrong move because it will undermine the multilateral process (which resulted in the 2005 Kyoto Protocol governing climate change)," said Sunita Narain, one of the world&#39s most active environmentalists and director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.

"I don&#39t believe that the United States, the world&#39s largest polluter, which has been a renegade nation, has the right to call such a meeting. They have no leadership role in this game," she told IPS.

Asked if the U.S.-sponsored summit would detract from the importance of the U.N. summit on the same subject, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Least Developed Countries Anwarul Karim Chowdhury said if the climate change agenda is to be meaningful, there has to be a "full U.S. involvement".

But he pointed out that Washington&#39s initiative can contribute to advancing the agenda only if the U.S. summit keeps the global perspective in view.

"As this (Washington) meeting would be amongst only a limited number of countries, it would have been purposeful to hold the summit before the U.N. meeting," Chowdhury told IPS.

The outcome of their deliberations could be a substantive input into the U.N. deliberations. "Swapping the dates would be a good idea," said Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to the United Nations.

He also said it would have been useful if these structural matters, with expected substantive implications, had been given serious thought in preparing for these two key initiatives on climate change.

Although most of the countries invited to the U.S. summit are industrial nations, Bush has also extended his invitation to China and India, described as two of the world&#39s largest polluters.

Narain said: "I have made it very clear that the Indian government should not go to it because then you are giving credibility to a process that is immoral, wrong and illegitimate."

Asked if India is going to participate, she said: "Who can refuse an invitation from the United States? Come on. That&#39s okay. We are a democracy and I have the right to tell my government that I don&#39t agree."

The Washington summit has been dubbed a "Meeting of Major Economies on Energy Security and Climate Change", while the U.N. meeting is officially titled "The Future in our Hands: Addressing the Leadership Challenge of Climate Change".

As of last week, 44 heads of state and 26 heads of government (out of a total U.N. membership of 192) have been listed to speak at the United Nations.

The meeting has been convened by the secretary-general, who says climate change will be high on his agenda during his five-year tenure as chief administrative officer of the world body.

Asked if the U.N. meeting should have been under the auspices of the General Assembly and not under the secretary-general, Chowdhury said that as the only global body that generally takes a holistic approach in addressing the challenges facing the humanity, the U.N.&#39s active engagement on climate change issues is necessary.

Member-states need to come together to agree on individual, as well as collective action, for short and longer terms, he added.

"Though initiated by the secretary-general, it would have been more purposeful if the high-level meeting was held in the General Assembly format," Chowdhury added.

The U.N. Charter provides for such arrangements, he said. "After all, it is the member states who would take the final decisions and implement."

In April, the 130-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, criticised a decision by the Security Council to hold a one-day meeting on climate change.

Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, current G77 chair, said the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development assigned responsibilities in the field of sustainable development to the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development, the U.N. Environment Programme, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

But "no role was envisaged for the Security Council," Akram said.

That meeting was chaired by then British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, at a time when the rotating presidency of the Security Council was held by Britain.

Narain said: "I think the UK often does not think through what it wants – and the UK is very selfish."

"I believe this was such a foolish move to rush it to the Security Council – without any consultation, without any understanding of the political implications – just so that the British foreign minister could get some brownie points."

"And the British government itself has never kept to its commitments. It is free falling behind its Kyoto agreement. If it is really serious about it, it should get is own house in order," said Narain, who is also director of the Society for Environmental Communications in India, and winner of the 2006 Stockholm International Water Prize.

She said that at the G-8 summit of the world&#39s most industrial nations at Gleneagles, Scotland in July 2005, the British government decided it would assume leadership on climate issues. But what former British Prime Minister Tony Blair did was try to get India and China to commit to legally binding commitments so that he could be friends with the United States.

Climate change, she pointed out, never had a high profile because of the reluctance of the United States to put it on the agenda.

Even during the G8 summit meetings over the last few years, she said, Washington made it very clear to the host country that "if you mention the "C" word, we will not come."

Narain thinks the U.N. summit is a very good initiative of the secretary-general in providing leadership on climate change even though the process of negotiations will come under the U.N. climate convention.

At this moment, she argued, "what we need is high level attention to the problem of climate change and an articulation that the framework on climate change will work only if it is fair and just."

In his letter to 20 heads of state, Bush said the United States is committed to collaborating with other major economies to agree on a detailed contribution for a new global framework by the end of 2008, which would contribute to a global agreement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change by 2009.

At the Washington meeting, he said, "we would seek agreement on the process by which the major economies would, by the end of 2008, agree upon a post-2012 framework that could include a long-term global goal, nationally defined mid-term goals and strategies, and sector-based approaches for improving energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

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