AFP – A debilitating row with Russia at UN climate talks this week exposed a fundamental flaw in how decisions are taken — the entire system balanced precariously on an ill-defined notion of consensus, observers say.
From France 24 International News, an article entitled UN climate talks: no consensus on, um . . . consensus. Excerpts:
While furious with Russia for allowing the issue to stop important work at a meeting in Bonn, negotiators agree the decision-making procedure must be clarified before any long-term damage is caused.
By tradition, decisions in the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) are made on the basis of “consensus” — a term that implies common resolve by its 195 parties.
The principle is conceptually fuzzy and remains undefined in the organisation’s rulebook, yet it was the tool that created the Kyoto Protocol and binds the community of nations to signing an ambitious new pact on carbon emissions in 2015.
“Consensus is considered important since this makes the likelihood of implementation or compliance with what has been agreed larger, and demonstrates respect for the principle of state sovereignty,” Louise van Schaik of the Clingendael Institute of International Relations in the Netherlands told AFP.
But a bust-up at a low-key meeting in Germany this past week raised stark questions as to whether the practice — at least in its current form — can endure as the bill for climate change mounts and countries fight harder over how to apportion it.
“Since the beginning we’ve been sailing along in a bit of a legal grey zone where things are done by consensus without anybody really knowing what consensus means,” one insider told AFP.
What currently passes for consensus is traditionally achieved through frantic, late-night haggling.
In the 12-day talks that finished in Bonn on Friday, Russia, backed by Ukraine and Belarus, blocked work in one of three negotiating groups — demanding a debate on how consensus is reached.
“If we fail to hold such a discussion on the procedural aspects of preparing and taking decisions, we may see in 2015 a situation where all efforts that have been made would be a failure.”
He did not spell out how the system should be changed, but stressed it must take account of the “sovereign equality of all countries… to express their view.”
“Our system is sick,” agreed one European negotiator.
“Maybe something good can come of this — a review of how the system works, and how it doesn’t.”
Veterans of the climate process say the problem has deep roots.
At their very first executive meeting in 1995, parties failed to adopt the UNFCCC’s rules of procedure because they disagreed over Rule 42, which would allow for a vote when consensus fails.
By mutual agreement, the parties have been applying the rules ever since, but not Rule 42.
But most agreed that, ultimately, procedural clarity would help the process as a whole.
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres described the issue as a “challenge” but also “a fantastic opportunity to be creative and to increase the efficiency of the system”.
JC comments: Well we can only hope that the UNFCCC can come up with saner decision making procedures take account of the “sovereign equality of all countries… to express their view.” While they are at it, maybe they will also tell to the IPCC to drop the manufacturing consensus approach to climate science, which arguably does even more harm to the science than it does to the policy making process. (see my previous post No consensus on consensus).