How to negotiate with 192 heads around a table?

Secretary-General Addresses AOSIS Meeting on C...
Image by United Nations Photo via Flickr

You can’t.  And that seems to be a lessons learned from Copenhagen climate talks for the American representative.

“The UN didn’t manage the conference that well,” Pershing said. “I am not sure that any of us are particularly confident that the UN managing the near-term financing is the right way to go.”

“It is impossible to imagine a global agreement in place that doesn’t essentially have a global buy-in. There aren’t other institutions beside the UN that have that,” Pershing said. “But it is also impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in all the detail.”

UN’s original mandate is one of conflict prevention.  So maybe a multi-lateral and consensus-driven approach is built to navigate around preventative issues, like that of war.  But when it comes to the negotiation of a public good, have complexities exceeded what UN machineries can handle?

One of the many conflicts: the states that contribute most to pollution – and have the biggest impact on alleviating the problems of pollution, are not always the ones most affected by its consequences.  Therefore, on the international stage, it is imperative to give small states a voice as an acknowledgement of their pains, while giving enough weight to big polluters, as their engagement and financial commitment will determine the success or failure of this whole hoopla.

Politically, this is not easy an easy sell.  But if the US is talking about it, and surely it is not the only one, then it is worth considering what it means for climate change negotiations going forward.

[Pershing] instead sketched out a future path for negotiations dominated by the world’s largest polluters such as China, the US, India, Brazil and South Africa, who signed up to a deal in the final hours of the summit. That would represent a realignment of the way the international community has dealt with climate change over the last two decades.

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