Reflections from COP18, Wednesday 5 December
Luke Kemp, Australian National University, Fenner School of Environment and Society
COP18 has made it clear that business as usual is no longer an option in regards to the climate regime, and this includes the decision-making of the UNFCCC.
Consensus has become one of the rules that we love to hate in the UNFCCC. It has given laggards and blockers a veto over the past years and has led to many stalled negotiations, late nights and missed opportunities. This issue has led to a proposal by Mexico and Papua New Guinea, to introduce majority voting into the COP, an item that has been discussed in Doha. No contact group was established on this, but instead negotiations have been undertaken through bi-laterals and informal discussions. The transparency issues of this process aside, it has become quite clear that this proposal will not be passed at COP18, but instead will be forwarded to the agenda of COP19.
Interestingly, consensus is not even the official rule of the COP; it is simply an informal default procedure that is used in the vacuum of having no rules of procedure. The COP never managed to agree to its rules of procedure originally and has essentially operated for two decades without any. One rule (15.3) that is enshrined in the UNFCCC is that amendments to the Convention itself can be made through a three quarters majority vote. Majority voting can be implemented through a majority vote – meaning that this is not a political impossibility for post-COP18 negotiations.
The problem, as always, is power politics. It has become apparent that many States do not wish to lose their veto over a process which can fundamentally affect their national interests. This is especially important for the superpowers of negotiations. It is unlikely that the US will find it fair to have the same voting ability as a Small Island State. Yet, there is potential for creative compromise, such as weighting voting to reflect GDP or emissions.
The concept of majority voting, whether it is weighted or not, has been flying under the radar of negotiations, especially for civil society. However, recently, YOUNGO has officially adopted support of the majority voting proposal as a group position. It is vital that this issue receives further attention through negotiations and the wider public. Why? Because majority voting may be one of the few ways forward for a process that is now being seen as a multilateral zombie.