UN chief wants UN in charge of climate talks

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday the United Nations will remain in charge of talks on a new global climate change accord, dismissing a shift to negotiations with a streamlined group of countries suggested by U.N. climate envoy Gro Harlem Brundtland.

Ban said the former Norwegian prime minister's statement that talks will move to "a double track system" was "not desirable at this time."

"That I regard as her personal view," he said, stressing that a new climate change agreement should be negotiated within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Brundtland said Tuesday that disappointment with the Copenhagen summit last December, which failed to come up with binding rules on reducing pollution blamed for global warming, likely will bring a shift in the way countries view the cumbersome U.N. negotiating process and the need for more informal contact among key players.

The Copenhagen experience "will serve as a base for discussions going on this year," Brundtland said on the sidelines of a world conference on biofuels in Amsterdam. "It's not only going to be focused on the United Nations framework, but more on what these emerging economies and big economies are committing to."

"You will have more of a double track system" in addition to the U.N. framework, she said.

Ban insisted, however, when asked about her comments at a press conference, that "the firm agreement" of the 192 U.N. member states is that the U.N. lead the climate talks.

"And the United Nations will continue to lead while closely coordinating with the member states," he said.

Copenhagen concluded with a nonbinding three-page paper hammered out in an all-night private meeting among President Barack Obama and a handful of leaders, most importantly from China, India, Brazil and South Africa. It fell far short of the summit's original objective, a full-fledged and legally binding accord setting emission reduction targets for major countries.

Ban said he was "pleased" that 110 countries representing more than 80 percent of global emissions have expressed support for the Copenhagen accord.

He called their support "an important advance" toward the next meeting in Cancun, Mexico, starting in late November.

The secretary-general did not rule out discussions among smaller groups, saying they may be desirable and necessary "to facilitate the consensus-building process."

He said the U.N. will try to have more working group meetings ahead of Cancun as part of a "confidence-building process."

Delegates from some 180 countries are due to convene in Bonn, Germany, in April and again in June, and Ban said discussions are under way to add at least two or three more pre-Cancun meetings.

Brundtland, a U.N. special envoy on climate who also has been director of the World Health Organization, authored the 1988 U.N-sponsored report that made "sustainable development" a mantra for environmentalists. It warned that the world cannot continue to grow while disregarding the impact on nature and was a reference point for the first summit on climate change in 1992.

Yvo de Boer, who is retiring July 1 as head of the U.N. body that sets the framework for the talks, also has acknowledged the shortcomings of trying to reach a deal among too many countries, and expressed hope the process could be narrowed.

"You don't only rely on formal meetings, but through bilateral contacts and frequent meetings in a smaller setting and an earlier understanding of how the process can be advanced," he told The Associated Press last month when he announced his resignation. "At the moment it tends to be very much a stop-and-start affair with everything concentrated in the formal negotiations."

The negotiators are trying to draft the text of a global warming agreement to succeed and expand the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required a list of industrial countries to reduce carbon emissions by a total of 5 percent by 2012.

The talks have made progress on technical issues and on protecting the world's tropical forests. But they have been unable to find a formula for how industrial and developing countries should share the burden of limiting future emissions, or how to raise and distributes the billions of dollars needed to protect poor countries from rising sea levels, water shortages and shifting agriculture due to climate change.

A double-track negotiating process already is in place. Last year Obama created the 17-nation Major Economies Forum which met behind closed doors more than a half dozen times to discuss a climate deal. Climate change also has been on the agenda of the Group of Eight and the G-20 summits for several years.

But Brundtland said that even in those informal meetings, "the mindset was influenced by, if not dominated by, the reality that the big negotiations were going on in the U.N. framework."

After Copenhagen, however, she said that mindset changed.

The European Union, which was among the prime movers in the negotiations, saw its ambitions whittled down at the summit.

"They got the message that it was much more complicated than (they believed), and that they have to work with Brazil and China and others, not only in the broad framework of U.N. negotiations but also more directly and pragmatically," she said. "The reality is different from half a year ago."

But while hard negotiations may move into smaller, informal settings, Brundtland said the results must come back to the U.N. talks.


Associated Press Writer Arthur Max contributed to this report from Amsterdam