LISBON — Rather than focus on reaching a legally binding climate agreement, the United Nations should take a stronger role in making sure that countries promote the development and use of cleaner energy sources, Yvo de Boer, the U.N.’s former climate chief, said on Friday.
At a time when the U.N.’s long-held ambition of reaching a new treaty to curb emissions blamed for global warming seems out of reach, Mr. de Boer said many countries, as well as companies, wanted “to be held accountable” for their efforts at promoting greener policies and industries.
The U.N. could help to fill that role and do more to help craft a rule book for the way countries like China monitor and verify pledges to lower greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. de Boer told the Global Clean Energy Forum, a conference convened by the International Herald Tribune.
The near-collapse of global talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December, coupled with the most serious financial crisis in decades, have left investors reassessing what role cash-strapped governments and international authorities can play in fostering clean energy.
Mr. de Boer, who helped to organize the summit meeting in Copenhagen, left the U.N. in July to become the special global adviser on climate change and sustainability at KPMG, a consulting firm.
Mr. de Boer, a Dutchman, all but ruled out chances for an international treaty at the next major gathering of nations in Cancún, Mexico, that starts at the end of November, though he said nations could eventually adopt a treaty.
In the near term, the U.N. should do more to support clean energy and to involve business in the negotiations, he said.
“I think it’s ultimately the responsibility of an international regime to set a common metric, to set common standards, perhaps even translate those into guidelines,” he said, adding that that work could lead to establishing common guidelines. The clean energy business would benefit from an “international framework that registers the commitments of countries, but then at the level of activity puts a very solid mechanism in place for reporting monitoring and verification of action.”
Such a structure would “ensure real results are being achieved,” he said.
Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, a deputy minister for multilateral affairs and human rights at the Foreign Ministry in Mexico, told the conference that his country, as host of the next meeting, would promote an “enhanced role” for business at future U.N. meetings.
The Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate treaty overseen by the U.N. but never signed by the United States, showed the limits of treaties, Mr. de Boer said.
Canada was not expecting to achieve its targets under Kyoto yet had not actually withdrawn. “I don’t see a lot of talk about consequences,” Mr. de Boer said, referring to Canada. “Even something internationally legally binding is relative,” he said.
Mr. de Boer also sought to make the case that the much-criticized Copenhagen Accord — reached in the final hours of the talks in December by the United States with major emerging powers including China and India — laid the groundwork for a more pragmatic approach in the future.
“Say what you will of Copenhagen, we now have targets for emission reductions from every industrialized country and action plans from around 40 developing states,” he said. “The contours of a future framework are in place.”
Many experts have said that the emission reductions envisioned in those pledges fall far short of what is needed to keep the atmosphere from warming dangerously through this century, leading to shifts in climate, worsening droughts and floods, rising seas and other damage.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has tracked research on human-caused global warming since it was created under U.N. auspices in 1988, said on Friday at the conference that he supported Mr. de Boer’s recommendations.
But Mr. Pachauri also urged delegates going to the meeting in Cancún to bear in mind the findings of scientists about the potential for dangerous climate change.
Mr. Gómez Robledo, the Mexican official, acknowledged that scientific findings about the pace of climate change suggested that nations should be moving further and much faster to cut emissions. But, he said, “we have to be pragmatic.”
Kunihiko Shimada, the principal international negotiator for the Japanese Environment Ministry, said he hoped nations in Cancún would agree to set a timetable to reach a treaty by the end of 2011, at a summit meeting in South Africa.