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Ex-Official: U.N. Must Change Tack In Climate Talks

Date: 10-Dec-10
Country: EGYPT
Author: Dina Zayed

The United Nations must change tack and hold more informal talks to break a deadlock between rich and poor nations seeking a climate change treaty, a former head of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) said.

U.N. climate talks in Mexico, which end on Friday, have so far yielded few results in pushing a modest package to fight global warming and averting a new, damaging setback after talks in Copenhagen failed to produce a U.N. treaty last year.

"The U.N., I'm sorry to say, is taking a very negative attitude toward the issue of climate change. There is a huge difference between neutrality and failing to have an active role in trying to find a solution," Mostafa Kamal Tolba told Reuters.

Informal consultations rather than public negotiations between opposing groups were needed, Tolba said, adding that the Mexican foreign minister's attempt to partner up pairs was the right idea but was being looked into too late.

Wrangling over whether to extend Kyoto, which obliges almost 40 developed nations to cut greenhouse emissions until 2012, lies at the heart of the impasse, where some rich nations want poorer states to also commit to cuts before extending that pact.

Developing nations insist that the rich must lead by setting deeper cuts beyond 2013 and say the burden of emissions cuts should be carried by the countries historically responsible.

Tolba, widely credited for helping broker the Montreal Protocol of the Ozone Layer, said in an interview in Cairo this week that the problem was that the methods of negotiations were drawing sides to a compromise.

The Montreal Protocol, designed to phase out the production of substances seen as responsible for ozone depletion, has been widely adopted and hailed as a success by experts.

"DIALOGUE OF THE DEAF"

Tolba, an Egyptian scientist who headed the UNEP from 1976 to 1992, said developing countries ought to take more responsibility and offer more ground.

"The developing countries are just like a broken record. They are repeating themselves in a very nasty way," Tolba said, but added that all parties were not doing enough. "They are talking across one another and not to each other."

"This is what I call dialogue of the deaf and it is not going to lead us anywhere."

Negotiators in Cancun said on Thursday the talks to find a deal were on a "knife edge" as Bolivia stuck to hardline demands and accused capitalist climate policies of causing genocide.

"In the treaties I negotiated, I never had an open meeting. The first thing I did was to hold discussions between the developing and the developed countries and to get them to agree in principle before putting them behind a microphone," he said.

Talks being held in the Caribbean beach resort of Cancun are unlikely to succeed, but they should aim to avoid repeating the "fiasco" of Copenhagen, Tolba said. Another round of talks will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa next year.

"I am very optimistic by nature, I am never pessimistic, but I really have my doubts that they will reach anything between now and Johannesburg and still that may not be the final page."

(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

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