“I think this process is totally broken,” wrote Melinda Kimble, the U.N. Foundation’s senior vice president, who as a State Department negotiator helped forge the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming. “While we are searching for a new paradigm to advance international cooperation, this meeting is definitely not a model.”
Brittany Trilford, a 17-year old New Zealander who won a contest to attend and represent global youth in an address to the assembled delegates, said she was shocked by the final product.
“This doesn’t look very ambitious, and it doesn’t look like it will do anything,” she said. “Everyone you talk to is frustrated about what’s going on. Everyone is tense.”
Kimble and other experienced negotiators such as Yvo de Boer, who previously oversaw the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the summit had been hampered by the economic downturn as well as a lack of preparation and shared vision about how the world should tackle its long-term problems. President Obama skipped the meeting, as did British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed delegates Friday, in Obama’s place.
In her speech, Clinton spoke of forging partnerships that would harness “the power of the market” rather than relying solely on governmental action. “So while the outcome document adopted here contains many important principles and proposals, the most compelling products of this conference are the examples of new thinking that can lead to models for future action,” she said. “It should be said of Rio that people left here thinking, as the late Steve Jobs put it, not just big, but different.”
“This process has been exceedingly ill-prepared,” said de Boer, a special global adviser on climate change and sustainability for the accounting firm KPMG. De Boer praised the “explosion” of new business commitments unveiled in Rio but added, “although I think all the individual initiatives by companies and partnerships are interesting, they don’t deliver the scale that is necessary to address the global challenges we face on sustainability.”
That challenge was underscored by analysis released Wednesday predicting that the number of undernourished women and young children in the developing world will increase from one in seven to one in five because of the impact of climate change on food production
Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the authors of the analysis, said in addition to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, governments should adopt programs like ones in Mexico that promote long-term agricultural contracts.
Frenk said collective action on problems such as food security and climate change still need to be brokered at U.N. summits, as flawed as the process may be.
“It’s hard to make any progress,” he said. “But I don’t think we have any choice.”