Call for votes to spur climate talks faces hurdles
BONN, Germany (Reuters) - A proposal by Mexico and Papua New Guinea to kick-start U.N. climate talks by shifting to voting on major decisions from an ill-defined need for consensus may face insurmountable hurdles, experts say.
"We want to break this process where the slowest is allowed to hold everyone else up," Kevin Conrad, of Papua New Guinea, told Reuters of the proposal on the sidelines of U.N. negotiations in Bonn from June 6-17.
He acknowledged the call to allow a 75 percent majority vote "as a last resort" scared many delegates at the 180-nation talks which are deadlocked over issues such as the fate of the Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions.
"There is a fear factor. Most countries are afraid that the vote is going to be used against them," he said.
Many delegates said they thought the plan unlikely to succeed even though almost all agree that talks are moving far too slowly to cut greenhouse gas emissions and avert more floods, droughts, heatwaves, mudslides and rising sea levels.
Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said prospects for the proposal were slim since it would require consensus just to get it considered.
"Yes, a system that has voting would perhaps be more time efficient," she told Reuters, but "in order to go to voting we would have to have consensus ... So that tells you what the prospects are."
The submission, to be discussed in the run-up to annual talks among environment ministers in Durban, South Africa, in late 2011, was partly prompted after a U.N. meeting last year agreed a climate deal despite strident objections from Bolivia.
Hosts Mexico argued that the meeting had reached consensus, a yardstick agreed in climate negotiations, and Bolivia could not have a veto. Bolivia argued "consensus" means "unanimity" and is considering a legal challenge.
"We are in the process of analyzing the different options" for legal action, said Pablo Solon, head of Bolivia's delegation in Bonn. He was isolated at the Mexican talks arguing for far tougher action to protect "Mother Earth."
He said he would block the proposal, and that many other nations were also opposed.
Top emitters such as China and the United States do not want to be boxed in a corner by decisions that would require costly action. Developing states, most at risk from climate change, fear being overruled.
Conrad disagreed with Figueres, saying a reform could be taken by a vote under the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the guiding treaty for the talks. Amendments to that Convention can be decided by a 75 percent majority.
In Mexico, countries agreed a goal of limiting a rise in average world temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times and pledged to set up a new green climate fund to help developing nations.
Bolivia's leftist government argued the plan was too weak and demanded too little of industrialized nations. Other conferences have foundered, partly because of the ambiguity of what consensus means.
At a 2009 summit in Copenhagen, a few countries -- including Sudan, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia -- objected to an accord to step up action to slow global warming. That blocked adoption of a Copenhagen Accord that was eventually merely "noted" by the conference.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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