(Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter) United Nations — Over the next two years, 21 world leaders and environmental experts will work on a game plan for resolving climate change and economic growth that they will present to delegates at the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the U.N. chief announced yesterday.Upon returning from a weeklong visit to Japan, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that his office has established a new “High- Level Panel on Global Sustainability.” The team is comprised of a geographically diverse list of mostly high-ranking government officials, including some who have worked on the famous Brundtland Commission report and some active in international climate talks.

The panel has been tasked with drafting a “blueprint for sustainable growth and low-carbon prosperity,” one officials hope will help resolve stalled international climate change negotiations and perhaps secure a replacement treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.

“I have asked the panel to think big,” Ban said. “The time for narrow agendas and narrow thinking is over. We need to promote low carbon growth and strengthen our resilience to the impacts of climate change.”

The 21-member body includes the recently ousted prime ministers of Japan and Australia, as well as Connie Hedegaard, the Danish official who led last December’s international climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, and now serves as E.U. commissioner for climate action. Past and current environment ministers from India, Mexico and Spain are also serving, as is Gro Harlem Brundtland, the noted Norwegian environmentalist whose reporting on sustainable development became the force behind the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

The only private-sector representative on the panel is Canadian James Laurence Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion, the company behind the popular BlackBerry smart phones. Balsillie was chosen for his work at Canada’s Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Focus will be climate change

Officials in Ban’s office say the panel won’t be discussing all manner of global environmental problems, such as deforestation, overfishing or rising levels of pollution in the ocean. Rather, the focus will be on climate change and coming up with proposals on how governments can grow their economies and meet the economic demands of their populations while shifting away from fossil fuels and carbon-heavy industrialization.

The separate group is needed, panel organizers say, because the lack of substantial progress shows that the process at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is dealing with climate change versus economic growth in isolation, or in terms of opposition to one another. Ban and others also complain that governments are also showing too much focus on narrow domestic priorities and are failing to see the larger picture.

“The time for narrow agendas and narrow thinking is over,” Ban said.

The only U.S. representative listed on Ban’s high-level panel is Susan Rice, current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. Rice’s office did not respond directly to questions about her qualifications, how she was selected or what her role will be.

“The ambassador is pleased to be a part of the panel and looks forward to contributing to its important work,” said U.S. mission spokeswoman Carolyn Vadino.

Looking for results at the end of 2011

Janos Pasztor, the head of Ban’s climate change support team, who will also lead the new panel’s administrative side, said he expects its work to commence around the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this September. Ban expects a report from the panel to be completed by the end of 2011, in time for him to forward it to UNFCCC negotiations in December that year and delegates gathering for sustainable development talks in Brazil in 2012.

U.N. officials in Europe and New York now openly admit that they do not expect governments to reach any agreement on a new international climate change treaty in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of this year. Talks are instead focusing on how to garner the $100 billion in annual climate adaptation financing that was promised to poor countries in Copenhagen. December 2011 is the new benchmark officials are setting as the earliest possible date for the drafting of a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

“We have challenges on … lifting people out of poverty, feeding them, having enough water, while at the same time we must reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Pasztor in an interview. “We are having a hard time on each one of these, and what the panel is going to try to address is how we can solve this, and it’s trying to look at it not as individual items — water here, energy there, climate change in some other box — but try to look at these together.”

Pasztor also rejected assertions that the new global sustainability panel would largely duplicate work already performed by the UNFCCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or other U.N. agencies.

“Its apples and oranges here,” said Pasztor. “IPCC is an intergovernmental body looking at science, and they will continue to do that, and they’re doing it. We’re not going to look at that.”