Diplomatic Unease On The Menu At UN Climate Talks

It sounds like it may have been inspired by Oxfam’s Hunger Banquet, and it will be interesting to see how it works. Mandarins at the United Nations will be subjecting world leaders to a little diplomatic shock therapy at today’s UN climate negotiations in an effort to inject a greater sense of urgency into the proceedings. As recently as the G8 Summit in Italy, world leaders were speaking about good intentions, and hopeful signs, but most pundits acknowledge that climate talks to find a successor to Kyoto are in deep trouble. Nearly 100 heads of state and government are meeting in New York this week, and they’ll either  break the logjam — or remain at loggerheads.

UN officials, tired by the status quo, have devised a pared-down program that should promote real communication.

“We need these leaders to go outside their usual comfort zones,” said one diplomat. “Our sense is that leaders have got a little too cozy and comfortable. They really have to hear from countries that are vulnerable and suffering.”

As a result, each leader will be required to lose his or her entourage and key advisers. World leaders will be allowed to be accompanied by a single aide, and it’s recommended each country’s environment minister fulfill that role. Leaders will not be giving speeches, so the pomp and platitudes for the folks back home will be mercifully absent. Instead, the world’s most powerful men and women will be folded into discussion groups that pair wealthy nations with leaders from countries most vulnerable to global warming. Lunch sessions will seat world leaders with environmental activists and CEOs who understand the problem — and the opportunity it presents — and who have been pressing hard for action. And dinner will see the world’s largest polluters at tables with leaders from countries like Bangladesh, Kiribati, Costa Rica, and Vietnam where people will suffer horribly if the world doesn’t transition to a low-carbon economy.

We should know by this week’s G20 Summit in Pittsburgh if this novel format has borne any fruit.

Richard is a writer and editor based in Halifax, Nova Scotia who specializes in clean technology and climate change. He's the founder of One Blue Marble, a climate change activism blog and web site.

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