The next international climate talks should focus on convincing countries of the merits of "green growth" rather than pushing for more ambitious targets on global warming, the former UN top climate official said today.
Yvo de Boer, who steered the UN climate process for four years until earlier this year, warned that the conference in Cancun could be a re-run of last year's talks in Copenhagen, which were seen as a failure in many quarters after they failed to deliver a new legally-binding global deal on cutting emissions.
Writing in the journal Nature, Mr de Boer said there had not been agreement on what Copenhagen was supposed to achieve, and there was a widespread fear that ambitious climate policies could damage economic growth.
He suggested that many developing countries believed rich nations were using the issue of climate change to "keep developing nations poor and maintain the current economic status quo".
He said the Cancun talks should focus on practical steps, including helping poorer countries assess the potential for green growth and their national responses to a changing climate.
There needed to be a better balance between cutting emissions and efforts to adapt to climate change, as well as ensuring poor countries receive key technologies and mobilising private finance to support innovation and lower the cost of items such as renewable energy equipment.
Mr de Boer also said rewarding efforts to stop deforestation would limit the cost of future emissions cuts and a robust framework to monitor, report and verify actions and support by countries would ensure nations pulled their weight.
He admitted he was "selling the climate short" because the practical measures he had outlined would not enable the world to limit temperature rises to 2C - the figure widely settled on as the cut-off point before "dangerous" climate change.
His comments come after the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a report which showed that all the pledges by countries to curb emissions under the voluntary Copenhagen Accord hammered out in the dying hours of last year's summit would deliver less than two thirds of the cuts needed to limit temperature rises to 2C.
But Mr de Boer said: "The realist in me suggests that we need to work with what we have."
And he warned: "Those familiar with the rules of football will know that many people issued the UN climate process in Copenhagen the equivalent of a cautionary yellow card.
"It should tread carefully to avoid the unfortunate consequences of a second."