Well, regions can pass climate deals themselves theoretically without the UN. NAFTA for example is a treaty between Canada, the US, and Mexico, althought it is more trade based than environmentally.
However, in order to reach a global climate treaty, the UN will have to play a substantial role as a legitimate forum where all countries have somewhat equal representation.
I believe that we can, but as Benz states the UN is likely to play some type of role, if only as the facilitator of negotiations between member nations. Most of the global action on climate change has been coordinated directly or indirectly by the United Nations–the climate summits, such as the one that occurred in December in Copenhagen, are sponsored by the UN, and the International Panel on Climate Change, whose 2001 report is the clarion call for global warming action, is a UN-related organization. However, as a practical matter it may be that the most important potential climate change deal might come from countries negotiating among themselves. I can envision, for instance, a climate change treaty between the US and China, two of the largest carbon-producing nations, involving some exchange of economic or trade concessions in return for hard targets on carbon emissions. The real question is whether the major nations really want a deal. Political and economic pressures around the world, particularly in the US and China, are such that many people would prefer a voluntary approach to carbon reduction that is not legally binding in order to preserve the flexibility to deal with changing domestic economic or political conditions. Imagine Obama right now, for example, announcing a treaty that mandates steep cuts in carbon emissions, in the present economic climate of recession and high unemployment–it’d be very difficult for him politically. Whether the UN can help break down these barriers and motivate nations to work together for climate change, as opposed to nations getting together to cut their own deals, is very much an open question in my view.
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