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Is the UN climate chief abandoning a sinking ship?

Is the UN climate chief abandoning a sinking ship?

The controversial former UN ambassador John Bolton famously said “If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

Now Yvo de Boer, the UN’s executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, is resigning, saying in a statement that “I have always maintained that while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business.”

An interesting comment from a lifelong bureaucrat.

The Copenhagen round in December has been described as everything from a “debacle” (UK Guardian) to “chaotic” (NY Times). But is this a failure of the UN, or of Mr. DeBoer’s management of the talks? The world’s major emitter nations came to the table prepared to commit to substantial reductions, there was near unanimous acknowledgment that we need to set a 450 ppm target to avoid massive global ecological disaster and social injustice, and hundreds of NGOs had engaged in protracted public awareness/education campaigns to create populist enthusiasm for climate action. Businesses have also been preparing to prove de Boer right – by working hard on solutions to address the almost certain need to conform to a new world order with low carbon economic policies.

As de Boer himself said, “We were about an inch away from a formal agreement…it was basically in our grasp, but it didn’t happen. So that was a pity.”

Just two months later, we have major firms (including BP and Caterpillar) bailing out of the US Climate Action Partnership, a stalled climate bill, sinking public belief in climate change, and the US chamber of commerce again attacking the EPA. A pity indeed.

What was needed in Copenhagen was strong and competent leadership, and a pragmatic and realistic acknowledgment that a half dozen super powers were really the ones in a position to get a deal done…or to block it. Bolton understood this, as does President Obama, who flew in on the last day and brokered a last minute accord among the largest emitters.

I for one believe the the UN can play an important role in facilitating coordinated global policy on this borderless issue. The Montreal Protocol, which halted ozone depletion, is a shining example of what is possible. And the UN- created CDM mechanism is a potentially powerful tool to fight climate change while improving livelihoods through financing projects such as cookstoves, forestry, and innovative energy retrofits.

We have another chance at the next meetings in Cancun later this year, although the momentum and build up to Copenhagen will not be replicated. My advice for the next UN climate chief? Most of the work for Copenhagen should have been done on a bilateral or multilateral basis before the meeting opened, whether that is politically popular or not — the twelve day mosh pit approach does not work. And it is time to dismiss Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, the UN’s climate science arm. Under Pachauri’s leadership, the IPCC’s credibility, and therefore the credibility of the science underlying climate change has become tarnished.

Tough decisions? Perhaps. But the issue is too important not to take decisive action. As the saying goes; “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”…while the not so tough simply go. So Mr. de Boer, thank you for your service. But no one said your job would be easy. On an issue this big, we need someone at the helm who can make this work, or at least is willing to go down with the ship.  

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Photo adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/ / CC BY-SA 2.0 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/ / CC BY-SA 2.0 under a CC license. All rights reserved.

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4:38AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

How come?

12:31AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thank you

12:28AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thank you

12:26AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thank you

12:24AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thank you

12:23PM PST on Feb 27, 2010

Perhaps he is...

3:30PM PST on Feb 25, 2010

Nor is there any reason to not work at your local level. Neighborhood associations is a good place to start. They balk at allowing people to use a clothesline. I was HUD housing manager trust me I know about landlords that do not want to spend money to make changes. But every state has minimum hosing qualifications and if they are not met they do not need to be landlords. Seth it is all in how hard you want to work at something. It sounds as if your local level is ripe for a little activity. Organize it. It will help you kill some time while you are waiting for the world to change. I( can not take responsibility for what China does or Africa does, but what I can do is speak out when the opportunity arises, make the changes I can make, and work at my local level. As much as we like to think we can affect what goes on in the world we can't even stop genocide in Darfur, what makes you think we are going to be able to tell them about sustainable energy? Uganda? Zimbabwe? China? India? Best do what you can where you can. Iran, Iraq, Saudi, they all depend on oil revenue do you think they really care about sustainable energy? Has sanctions worked for nuclear installations in Iran? Face it, we, or the UN, do not control the world at large, and to be honest I don't think we should. Being the world cop has run this country into the ground. It is not sustainable. Best to do what you can where you can. The way things are going you probably ought to do it as fast as you can.

3:15PM PST on Feb 25, 2010

I do try what I can to make a change, but my point was that there are certain to be people with limitations.

For example, I've tried working with my landlord about things, but for someone who wouldn't even help pay for cleanup when our basement flooded and won't replace broken screens and storm windows, I'd be fighting a losing battle to get him to let me install solar panels on his precious house. And there are plenty of slumlords who are even worse.

My other point from my previous point is that there's no set path for everyone to follow. There are many ways to get this done, but it takes the combined efforts of many to achieve change on the scale needed to make this world better.

No matter what we do in North America, if China continues polluting, and if there are nations in Africa that continue burning charcoal, if there are homeless people in poor nations everywhere who live in slums with no running water whose waste pollutes nearby waterways, all of these will counteract efforts made elsewhere, and that is why this effort must be global.

Change on this scale will be difficult and not instantaneous, but that's no reason to stop trying to make that change.

3:00PM PST on Feb 25, 2010

Seth I aqm a renter it is called dealing with your landlord. Nothing I have built is permanent I can take it down and take it with me. As for local municipalities then perhaps t is time for you to deal with local law making and start working with local law makers and regulators. You want to let the UN deal with something you could deal with by attending your local town halls and state law making sessions. If you are that passionate about making changes make them where you can.

1:01PM PST on Feb 25, 2010

How pompous to assume that just anyone can do this, though. Not everyone can afford these changes themselves.

What about renters? You assume that everyone's landlords/landladies would be sold on installing solar or wind panels.

What about local zoning regulations? Municipalities won't always allow these changes, even if it's for the greater good.

And just because you've made these changes, you just stop when you're done rather than trying to help keep the ball rolling so that others can be helped, as well?

The key is for people to make whatever changes they are capable of making, even if it's just using their voice to make sure the message is heard.

Because this is a global issue, there shouldn't be anything wrong with conducting the efforts for change under the umbrella of the UN as this would be a way to maximize the scope.

Saying that more regulations wouldn't help is also backward thinking as the lack of regulations has allowed this to get to the point it has, and regulations already put into effect have already had some degree of success. If unregulated, don't you think factories would pollute as much as possible simply because there would be cost involved in preventing it that would cut into their profits?

If you're unwilling to try to make any more changes, that's fine; I guess you've met your personal quota, but don't dissuade others or insist on them following you.

There are many paths to positive change.

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