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U.N. Climate Talks: Mexico, Papua New Guinea Try To Break Deadlock

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BONN, Germany — After years of incremental progress in U.N. climate talks, a proposal is on the table to change the rule of consensus and allow the 193 nations to adopt decisions by a massive majority vote.

The joint initiative from Mexico and Papua New Guinea is meant to break what some delegates call built-in deadlock, where a handful of nations – or even a single delegation – can stymie agreements.

But the proposal faces Herculean obstacles from countries both large and small who jealously protect their power to influence, delay and ultimately block. Many delegates give it little chance of success.

"We are concerned about the narrow interpretation that provides any party with a veto. We have to reconsider the rules," said Fernando Tudela, the Mexican climate change ambassador.

In the 20 years of negotiations on a climate change treaty, "we have never voted in this process," Tudela told The Associated Press.

Acknowledging that the idea may not be adopted any time soon, he said "we wanted to put the issue to be considered."

The proposal, dated May 30, says decisions may be adopted by "overwhelming majority" vote as "a last resort" if all reasonable attempts to reach consensus have failed. It would require passage by 75 percent of those voting.

The latest two-week round of talks in Bonn, which ends Friday, is meant to prepare for a major climate conference in Durban, South Africa, starting Nov. 28, where the proposal for changing the rules of procedure would receive its first full airing.

"I am frustrated with the slow discussions," said Japan's chief delegate Akira Yamada. "We should improve the situation one way or another," though he said it was a "touchy issue" that could take a long time.

Christiana Figueres, the top U.N. climate official, said she doubted negotiators would put a rule change on top of their priority list. Passing an amendment to the basic convention underpinning the talks "is a rather tall order," she said.

It is unclear what it would take to impose a change. Some delegations argue that a consensus is required to dispense with the rule of consensus – a virtual impossibility.

Annie Petsonk, of the Environmental Defense Fund, believes the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the bedrock document under which the talks are held, allows for amendments by three-quarters vote. Even that would be tough, however.

It would not be the first time majority rule has been suggested. But Mexico's signature on the resolution gives it added weight this time.

The idea received a push after the last big conference in Mexico, when only Bolivia objected to the Cancun Agreements, insisting that its opposition meant the accord fell short of consensus and thus failed.

After a lengthy and acrimonious debate, Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa gaveled the agreements through, saying consensus doesn't "mean that one country has the right to veto" decisions supported by everyone else.

She received a standing ovation.

Bolivia maintains the Cancun Agreements are invalid, and says it is considering legal challenges.

"We are not against a vote. But a vote applies to all. If there is consensus, it applies to all," said Bolivia's Pablo Solon, the delegate who lost the standoff in Cancun. The proposal to change the rules amounted to an admission that Espinosa was out of order to overrule him, he said Friday.

In 2007 at the Indonesian resort of Bali, the U.S. delegation threatened to scuttle a hard-fought agreement, backing down only when it was shamed in the closing session. The Papua New Guinea delegate told the Americans that if they cannot be a leader, "leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way."

In 2009 in Denmark, a handful of countries, including Bolivia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Cuba, blocked adoption of the Copenhagen Accord brokered by President Barack Obama. They objected that the accord was concluded in a back-room deal and was unacceptably inadequate.

Rather than being adopted, the Copenhagen Accord was only "noted," depriving it of legal force.

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