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Mixed Signals from Poland



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The 14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and various related meetings took place in Poznań, Poland, December 1st-12th 2008. Newswatch editors Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich report.

As the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference began, Yvo de Boer, head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on the industrialized nations "to show the world that they are willing to shift gear and take on the leadership role in emission reductions." The challenge in Poznań, he said, would be to identify which proposals for ongoing action and a post-Kyoto agreement should be taken forward and to focus on ranges of emissions reduction targets for industrialized nations.

Political developments around the world resulted in mixed signals regarding future prospects for the climate regime. On the positive side, the election of Barack Obama as president was seen as presaging a much-needed shift in the negotiating position of the United States in coming months. Listing the "planet in peril" alongside two wars and the financial crisis in his acceptance speech, Obama has made climate change a priority. The long-term goal of his climate plan is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by the year 2050, with a reduction to 1990 levels the target for 2020.

Delegates from India and China welcomed Obama's mid-term emissions target, but said that it is not tough enough. "It's more ambitious than President Bush but it is not enough to achieve the urgent, long-term goal of greenhouse gas reductions," commented He Jiankun of Tsinghua University in China. "It's not ambitious enough considering the Kyoto Protocol targets, but, given the eight-year Bush administration, it's progress," said Dinesh Patnaik of the Indian Foreign Ministry.

Obama has appointed Harvard physicist John Holdren as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. British government adviser David King described the appointment as superb, saying "Holdren is a top-rate scientist and his position on climate change is as clear as you could get. This is a signal from Barack Obama that he means business when it comes to dealing with global warming."

Carol M Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will be presidential assistant for energy and climate change and this too is seen as a sign of Obama's commitment to action on the environment. "Time and time again, when the nation has set a new environmental standard, the naysayers have warned it will cost too much," Browner commented. "But, once we have set those standards, American ingenuity and innovation have found a solution at a far lower cost than predicted," she continued. Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a long-term advocate of the development of technologies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, will head the Department of Energy.

On a less positive note, the European Union had to accept a series of compromises in agreeing a plan to meet its "20-20-20" targets, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent and meeting 20 per cent of energy requirements from renewable sources by the year 2020. The scale of the concessions that were necessary resulted in concern that the European Union's leadership role in the climate negotiations may be under threat. "This could have been one of the European Union's finest moments, but once again short-sighted national self-interest has been put ahead of the long-term safety of the planet," commented Friends of the Earth. Oxfam described the final package as "business-as-usual tied up in a green ribbon," saying that "European Union leaders bowed to business lobby pressure and faltered at an historic moment."

Concessions were granted, for example, with regard to the auctioning of carbon emissions permits to protect industries that "face particular challenges." Moreover, it had been proposed that a certain percentage of the revenue from the auctioning of permits would be committed to green measures and adaptation efforts in the developing world but member states will now have complete control over how the revenue is spent.

According to one estimate, the European Union agreement will allow around 80 per cent of the European Union's emissions cuts to be made outside the economic group through the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms. "This is an impossible message to send to the third world. We're only going to make a fifth of the effort ourselves at home and get everyone else to do our work for us?" said Claude Turmes, Green member of the European Parliament.

The European Union has proposed a limit of two degrees Celsius global warming. At the Poznań meeting, small island states proposed that global warming be capped at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. "Two degrees is simply too high," said Leon Charles on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). "It is not a sector that needs to be adjusted - we are talking about the survival of countries," he continued. "We will be the canary in the coal mine. If we go, so will others," said Albert Binger, an adviser to the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. "It is incumbent on our fellow citizens of the planet to keep the canary from dying." AOSIS has called for the issue of insurance and compensation to be included in any future climate agreement and it was agreed in Poznań that this proposal be carried forward to the next phase of the negotiations.

Hard thinking at COP14
Hard thinking in Poznań

© Linkages/IISD

As the meeting progressed, conference participants made a clear commitment to shift into full negotiating mode next year in order to meet the end-2009 deadline for the development of the next stage of the international response to climate change. It was agreed that emissions control commitments of the industrialized countries under a post-2012 treaty regime should principally take the form of quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, as at present. Although some had hoped that a long-term emissions reduction goal would be agreed in Poznań, this was not to be.

Work was completed on operationalizing the Adaptation Fund, which, as things stand, will be supported by a levy on the Clean Development Mechanism and voluntary contributions. It has been estimated that the Fund could be worth US$300 million a year by 2012, though the United Nations considers that tens of billions of dollars a year could be needed by 2030 to respond to climate impacts on developing nations. There was no agreement in Poznań on increasing support for the Adaptation Fund by applying levies on joint implementation and emissions trading. "The elephant in the room is still where the money for adaptation is going to come from," commented Barry Coates of Oxfam New Zealand. "We urgently needed a decision on increased future funding for adaptation, but we didn't get there."

The conference did endorse what will now be the Poznań Strategic Programme on Technology Transfer, through which the Global Environment Facility aims to leverage private investment in mitigation and adaptation technologies in developing countries. It also instructed the Board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to develop means of streamlining the CDM process in order to boost take-up in nations with fewer than ten projects, especially in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States and Africa. Capacity strengthening was cited by the G77/China as a major issue in this regard. Implementation of projects identified by the National Adaptation Programmes of Action was discussed and the LDC Expert Group will consider support needed to facilitate this process. The outstanding matter of a renewed mandate for the Consultative Group of Experts, created to improve national communications from non-Annex I Parties, was not resolved.

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD)

Extended consultations focused on the presence of a semicolon in text recommending methodological guidance on "issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries." This text, present in early drafts, was drawn from paragraph 1(b)(iii) of the Bali Action Plan. India and others, seeking a more central role for conservation and other activities, sought removal of the semicolon, which would give these issues more prominence in the text. The final text included a comma in place of the semicolon, a move many interpreted as a small victory for inclusion of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in any possible future REDD mechanism.

From Earth negotiations Bulletin (Volume 12, Number 395)

"Poznań is the place where the partnership between the developing and developed world to fight climate change has shifted beyond rhetoric and turned into real action," claimed Maciej Nowicki, Polish environment minister, as the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference ended.

"Governments have sent a strong political signal that, despite the financial and economic crisis, significant funds can be mobilized for both mitigation and adaptation in developing countries," said de Boer. "We now have a much clearer sense of where we need to go in designing an outcome which will spell out the commitments of developed countries, the financial support required and the institutions that will deliver that support as part of the Copenhagen outcome," he continued.

Others were less optimistic. "In the face of the unbearable human tragedy that we in the developing countries see unfolding every day, this is nothing but callousness, strategizing and obfuscation," said India's delegate, Prodipto Ghosh.

The next negotiating meeting will take place in Bonn in March/April 2009.

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Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Updated: April 12th 2013