Climate change negotiations begin in Poznan, Poland

As we all cut back on our food intake to make up for one majorly gluttonous weekend, delegates are meeting in Poland to cut back on carbon. Today is the first day of UN climate change negotiations in Poznan, a conference that aims to set the groundwork for a climate treaty that will succeed the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.

The meeting, which runs from Dec.1-Dec. 12th, marks the halfway point between last year’s conference in Bali and 2009’s meeting in Copenhagen, by which time firm negotiations need to be completed in order to get the new treaty ratified by 2012. Delegates from 192 countries will be present in Poznan this week and next.

But despite environmentalists’ enthusiasm for establishing firm carbon reduction targets, experts expect that little tangible progress will be made in Poznan. Though Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised in Bali that his country would act as a leader in climate negotiations, so far the country hasn’t set any targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2020. Germany’s environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, also noted that most countries will likely hold back from making carbon reduction commitments during the Poznan talks. So far, the EU is the only region expected to set a target in Poznan, and even it has had trouble getting Italy and Poland to agree to slashing greenhouse gases 20 percent by 2020 (ironic seeing as Poland is hosting this year’s climate talks).

One reason firm resolutions are not expected from Poznan is that countries still have an entire year before a final agreement must be reached—a lot can change in a year, so the next 12 days are expected to merely establish a blueprint that would be finalized next year in Copenhagen.

Another reason that most countries won’t commit to set reduction goals is that world leaders will want to wait and see what the new US administration does. George W. Bush infamously pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, causing developing nations like China and India to say “If a developed nation like America won’t stop spewing out noxious gasses, why should we wean ourselves off coal and risk slowing our economic growth?” Unless developed nations take a leadership role in climate change negotiations, developing countries like China and India are unlikely to agree to emissions reductions. Obama has already stated that once in office, he will participate in international climate negotiations, with the goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Some folks also worry that the current world economic crisis will move climate negotiations to the back burner. However, Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official, sees the economic meltdown as a way to promote cleaner energy and combat climate change.

From Reuters:

Yvo de Boer said the world risked a second financial crisis if governments reacted to economic slowdown by building cheap, high-polluting coal-fired power plants that might then have to be scrapped as climate impacts hit.


De Boer said that economic slowdown was an opportunity to re-design the world economy.


“We must now focus on the opportunities for green growth that can put the global economy onto a stable and sustainable path,” he said.

And while Poznan may not bring set-in-stone emissions reductions, some initiatives may be established. For one, a scheme to get nations to pay tropical countries to preserve their rainforests—a valuable goal considering that deforestation accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Another plan that may hatch this week is a way to get industrialized nations to fund clean technology development in developing nations.

Just like last year’s conference in Bali, the Poznan talks are extremely important in laying the groundwork for an international agreement on combating climate change. But it is important to remember one thing: Nothing is set in stone until next year in Copenhagen when a final deal will be reached. UN officials and world leaders better don their most intelligent thinking caps—we only have one year to figure out how to wean the world off oil and coal and transition to a world economy based on renewable energy.