Pozna? climate talks leave ‘heavy lifting’ for 2009

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Despite great expectations, UN climate talks in Pozna? have failed to deliver a coherent plan for action, with activists and environmentalists voicing disappointment that much of the “heavy lifting” negotiations had been postponed until next year. Delegates will seek to strike a deal on a new international climate change agreement in Copenhagen next December.

After 12 days of extenuating negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), delegates were able to agree on a work programme for next year. They also made progress on technical details, including how to measure deforestation and the principles of financing a fund to help poor and vulnerable countries to cope with the impacts of global warming (rising seas, floods, droughts, storms and wildfires).

However, key issues like the need to set long-term goals for slashing emissions and avoiding dangerous climate change impacts, as well as the introduction of a technology-transfer mechanism to allow developing countries to move towards low-carbon economies, were left untouched.

“We do have what we need to move forward and get a deal in Copenhagen, but we just left a lot on the table for us to do in 2009,” said Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the climate change programme at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), after the talks had concluded.

According to ministers and environmental organisations, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will play a crucial role in bringing world leaders on board in the negotiations. “You cannot forge such an international agreement without the involvement of heads of state,” said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s climate and energy minister and the chair of next year’s meeting.

“In the end, this is about political responsibility and political will,” Hedegaard conluded. Much hope rests on US President-elect Barack Obama, who will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States on 20 January 2009. His recent public pledge to reduce US greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020 indicated genuine commitment to leading the US into the low carbon economy. 

Former US Vice President Al Gore boosted delegates on the final day of the Pozna? talks with a passionate plea for a global warming agreement. He said human survival could be at risk unless rich and poor countries found a way to bridge the political divide.

Quoting Obama, Gore assured delegates that the incoming president would heed scientific advice, push for a domestic agreement and strive to reach a meaningful global climate deal.

Members of the European Parliament's delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference in Pozna? welcomed the meeting's conclusions, describing them as an important halfway point on the road to the 2009 Copenhagen conference.

"A positive message that we will bring back from Pozna? is confirmation of the clear commitment by the incoming US administration to actively contribute to the fight against climate change, both through domestic measures and at international level," said Italian Socialist MEP Guido Sacconi (PES, IT), chair of the Parliament's temporary committee on climate change and co-chair of the EP delegation to Pozna?. 

"The words of optimism we heard from both Senator John Kerry and [former Vice President] Al Gore do give us great hope that next year in Copenhagen the EU will not be alone in leading [the world] towards an ambitious international agreement," he added. 

International NGO Oxfam welcomed a decision to grant developing countries direct access to the Climate Change Adaptation Fund. But it denounced "stonewalling" by rich countries over the funding mechanism. "This was an important decision on the crucial issues of accountability, effectiveness and control over the money available to poor countries for urgent adaptation needs," said Barry Coates, a senior Oxfam executive. "However, the elephant in the room is still where the money for adaptation is going to come from. We urgently needed a decision on increased future funding for adaptation, but we didn't get there."

Much of the controversy was sparked by the $60 million fund unblocked by developed countries to help tackle climate change. The money will be raised by a 2% levy on the clean development mechanism (CDM), which allows nations to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments by reducing emissions in developing countries.

The EU and the UN agree that billions are needed to for the task. A proper adaptation fund would run between $50 and $80 billion a year, according to independent and UN estimates. "It is a very big achievement," Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki said, commenting on the aid deal. "That will lay the necessary groundwork for an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen," he added. 

India angrily accused rich nations of "callousness, strategising and obfuscation," noting that the victims of climate change are often the poorest of the poor. "We are going to have to put much more energy into bridging the growing gap between the two sides," Ghana's envoy told the meeting. "It's a vision gap, and that is not a good sign for the future," he added. 

Su Wei, one of China's top negotiators, said most decisions made in Pozna? were "almost empty" because industrialised nations had not provided details on how they would transfer technology to developing countries and help them adapt to global warming. 

Commenting on the outcome of the conference, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said the meeting had caused bitterness due to its failure to resolve the adaptation issue. "Let's be honest, doing a deal in Copenhagen is to an important extent about engaging developing countries. And an important part of engaging developing countries is mobilising resources," de Boer said. Rich countries, he continued, refrained from committing because they see it "as part of a financial package to deliver a broader agreement".

But the EU said allowing easy access to cash in an economic downturn could set an incongruous precedent. "We also want to secure the credibility of the use of the money and the credibility of the projects," said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, which took place in Pozna? from 1-12 December, represented the halfway point in global talks – launched in December 2007 in Bali and set to conclude in Copenhagen in December 2009 – to clinch a successor deal to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Despite the disappointing outcome, the conference nevertheless put in place the building blocks for strenous negotiations in 2009. 

The work programme approved in Pozna? calls for proposals to be tabled in February and a negotiating document put forward by June. Heads of state and government will meet in September at the UN General Assembly.

  •  17 Dec.: Parliament plenary vote on package 
  • 29 Mar.-8 Apr. 2009: Climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. 
  • 1-12 June 2009: 30th sessions of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies in Bonn, Germany.
  • 31 Aug.-4 Sept. 2009: World Climate Conference.  
  • Dec. 2009: Copenhagen climate conference (COP 15); projected completion of UN climate negotiations on post-2012 framework.
  • End 2012: Deadline for ratification of new climate deal.

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