By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, August 18, 2009
UNITED NATIONS, (IPS) – A much-ballyhooed U.N. summit on climate change, scheduled to take place on Sep. 22 in New York, is mired in controversy even before it gets off the ground.
The 130 developing countries of the Group of 77 have expressed serious concerns over the lopsided logistical arrangements, and worse still, the possibility of several heads of state being left out in the cold.
According to current plans, only a limited number of world leaders will be speaking at the summit while a “working dinner” to be hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is being confined to only 25 of the 192 world leaders who are expected to be present at the summit.
“While fully respecting the prerogative of the secretary-general in preparing this summit, we must ensure that the full membership of the United Nations is able to participate at the highest possible level for the summit to be a success,” Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamed of Sudan, the chair of the G77, said in a letter to the secretary-general.
At an ambassadorial meeting of the G77 last week, speaker after speaker criticised the format of the summit and hinted at the possibility of a hidden political agenda.
“On what basis are these heads of state being asked to speak at the summit? And on what criteria are the 25 selected heads of state being invited for the so-called working dinner?” one ambassador asked.
Janos Pasztor, director of the secretary-general’s Climate Change Support Team, told reporters last month the summit is expected to lay a strong and necessary foundation of trust among leaders.
“The summit would provide a platform for heads of state and heads of government to consider the key political issues to be addressed during negotiations leading up to success in (the climate change meeting) in Copenhagen (in December),” he said.
The focus would be on interactive dialogue between heads of state and heads of government during roundtable discussions.
National statements would be delivered via pre-recorded video messages, he added.
The G77, which also includes China, says the U.N. summit should in no away attempt to prejudge the outcome of the critical negotiations that are to take place at the end of the year in Copenhagen under the auspices of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
Since a series of roundtable meetings are also scheduled to take place at the September summit, the G77 has told the secretary-general that these meetings should be “inclusive and open to active participation by all U.N. member states, including delegations that are unable to participate at the heads of state level, and regardless of the level in which they will participate.”
According to established U.N. protocol, heads of state are given precedence over heads of governments, foreign ministers, senior government officials and New York-based ambassadors.
But the G77 grouse is that even among heads of state, the upcoming summit will make a distinction as to who should participate in the summit and the roundtables, and who should be invited for the working dinner.
As one ambassador told IPS: “Since the summit is going to be on climate change, will the selected heads of state represent countries which are the worst polluters or the most environmentally friendly?”
In its letter to the secretary-general, the G77 says “since no decisions will be taken at the summit, the Group would like to request further clarification regarding the objective of the summit and a more detailed explanation of the expected accomplishment.”
Meanwhile, the secretary-general has proposed “a breakfast meeting” for another 20-25 heads of state who are not on the invitee’s list for the working dinner. But this is unlikely to assuage concerns of many.
The summit, which is expected to be attended by virtually all Western leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, is being advanced as a high-profile one-day political meeting, just ahead of the high-level segment on the opening day of the General Assembly sessions.
Asked about the format of the meeting, Pasztor told reporters that, after the plenary (which will be open to the press), the summit would break up into four small roundtable sessions in the morning and four in the afternoon (all closed to the press) co-chaired by two heads of state or head of government.
But participants could be accompanied by only a single adviser.
The closing plenary (open to the press) would hear summaries of the round table sessions.
There would be no negotiated outcome, but the secretary-general, as chair of the summit, would provide a summary. In order to keep the focus on the discussions, no side events would be organised, Pasztor said.
He also said the objective of the summit was to arrive at a political vision, provide direction for the negotiations and provide the impetus to move them forward.