Two days before the close of the COP19 climate conference in Warsaw, hundreds of climate activists left the conference prematurely to protest the lack of progress. This walk-out and the otherwise dismal effort in negotiating a new comprehensive treaty beg the question of how the process could be fundamentally improved.
The UN's framework convention on climate change, adopted in 1992, declares that change in the Earth's climate and its adverse effects are "a common concern of humankind." Yet this overarching perspective is barely represented in the formal UN process. The mission and primary concern of most country negotiators is to pursue vested governmental interests, some of which might not have to do with climate policy at all.
Another flaw in the process is the requirement of consensus agreements rather than majority voting, which places a heavy strain on negotiators to satisfy all involved parties. The Copenhagen Accord of 2009 couldn't be formally adopted because of the opposition of five small countries. That this minority was able to embarrass the main negotiators sparked suggestions that an agreement might be sought outside the UN framework.
A forum of elected representatives could put the process onto a new footing. This new forum could be set up according to article 7.2 (i) of the UNFCCC which allows the conference of state parties to establish subsidiary bodies "as are deemed necessary for the implementation of the convention."
Such a body was already suggested and outlined after the failure of the Copenhagen conference. A world parliament on climate change could be composed of members of parliament delegated by the legislative bodies of framework member states. Their mandate would be to represent their constituents in the negotiations. The delegates would be free from government instructions or diplomatic constraints, free to vote individually and independently according to their personal judgment. The work of the assembly would be characterized by open discussion and majority votes. The number of seats per country could be distributed according to criteria such as population size or economic output in order to reflect the actual weight of countries realistically.
This subsidiary parliamentary assembly of the UNFCCC would develop its own suggestions and proposals, operating on an equal footing with diplomatic officials in the COP process. The formal involvement of legislators could build pressure on governments to reach an agreement and speed up the process of ratification once it is achieved. If the diplomatic process alone still cannot reach a consensus, it could be provided that a certain qualified majority of both the conference of state parties and the parliamentary assembly would be sufficient to adopt outcomes.
Last month, the UN Human Rights Council's Independent Expert on Democratization recommended that the world body should convene a conference to study how a parliamentary assembly could represent world public opinion in global decision-making processes. At the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka, the foreign minister of Malta supported the proposal of a UN Parliamentary Assembly. A parliamentary assembly dealing specifically with climate change could be the first step. It would strengthen the democratic character of the climate negotiations and could help secure constructive cooperation and compliance on a continuing basis.
In the end, any agreement that would emerge with the approval by such a proposed assembly would no doubt have incomparably stronger legitimacy than the Kyoto protocol ever had.