Brown: we must learn lessons of Copenhagen

Brown calls for new system of negotiations to deal with climate change
  • @mjpmccarthy

The way world leaders negotiate climate change needs to be reformed, Gordon Brown said last night in the wake of the UN's Copenhagen Climate Conference, where the failure to produce a strong agreement to tackle global warming has disappointed millions around the world.

The unbreakable deadlock that "threatened to pull down the talks" must not be allowed to happen again, the Prime Minister said in a podcast on the Downing Street website – he added that there must be reform of the international institutions in which climate change is discussed.

Mr Brown's evident frustration with the long-term UN negotiating process, which ran into the sand in the two-week meeting in the Danish capital and had to be rescued by an ad hoc agreement by heads of state, was echoed yesterday in comments from the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, and also from Oxfam.

Oxfam's climate adviser, Antonio Hill, said that the Copenhagen Accord, the pact eventually agreed last Friday night, was not only "hugely disappointing" but also "reveals how the traditional approach to international negotiations, based on brinkmanship and national self-interest, is both unfit for pursuing our common destiny and downright dangerous".

There was too much at stake for a "politics-as-usual" approach, Mr Hill said. "We must act quickly to address the shortfalls of these negotiations so that we can make up for lost time and tackle climate change with the decisiveness and urgency needed. This cannot happen again."

Mr Miliband gave his own thoughts about reforming the climate negotiating process when he addressed a special meeting in London of groups who had contributed to the Government's pre-conference efforts to raise the profile of Copenhagen, from scout groups, to business alliances, to environmental pressure groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and Greenpeace.

Although Mr Miliband continues to believe in the UN as the body under which global warming should be dealt with, he believes that ministers should be involved earlier in the process. In the lead-up to the Copenhagen summit, civil servant negotiators were involved in much of the discussions, but they did not have the same political clout of ministers.

The other weakness identified jointly by Mr Miliband and Mr Brown was that any one of the 192 states in the negotiating process could, in effect, thwart all the others by refusing to sanction an agreement.

At Copenhagen, this role was performed by China, which refused to agree several elements of the final Copenhagen Accord that the majority of other states had wanted kept in – such as the commitment to halve the world's emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.

Yesterday Mr Miliband openly referred to China's obstructionist tactics – first detailed at the weekend in the Independent on Sunday – and accused the Chinese of "hijacking" the Copenhagen summit. "We did not get an agreement on 50 per cent reductions in global emissions by 2050, or on 80 per cent reductions by developed countries, as both were vetoed by China, despite the support of a coalition of developed and the vast majority of developing countries," he said.

Mr Brown was less direct in his criticisms and did not mention China by name, but last night he did say: "Never again should we let a global deal to move towards a greener future be held to ransom by only a handful of countries."

And he stressed: "I believe that in 2010 we will need to look at reforming our international institutions to meet the common challenges we face as a global community."