COPENHAGEN, Denmark--I'm not sure whether it was the chicken-suited followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai wandering about or the experience of freezing slowly for seven hours as I waited to get into the Bella Center, but something happened in the last 10 days to convince me, once and for all, that the United Nations climate negotiations will never quite work. As the dust settles on this year's talks and observers try to understand exactly what happened here, one thing is for certain: The UN process can no longer be the central focus of global efforts to confront climate change.
The structural problem with these talks has long been clear: It's hard to find anything that 193 countries agree on, and it's downright impossible to negotiate when all those parties must have their say. But activists, diplomats, and many analysts have long insisted on the participation of every last UN member nation. Climate change is a global problem, they argued, and hence one that requires a global solution. Indeed, the logo for the Copenhagen conference shows circle of 192 crisscrossing lines. (It was designed before Somalia joined the UN process on Dec. 10.) This pattern is meant to symbolize how interconnected we are. Instead, it looks like a ball of tangled string.