Poznań: A mandatory pit stop or the fast lane to Copenhagen?
“Poznań is the half-way mark between Bali and Copenhagen. It represents an important moment for stock-taking. But it also needs to urgently advance negotiations under the Bali Road Map, as well as on-going work.”
With these words, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), recently summed up the essence of this year’s meeting of Ministers to discuss climate change. Indeed, as COP 14 gets underway in Poznań, Poland on 1 December many will already be looking beyond the conference to next December’s meeting of delegates in Copenhagen.
For negotiators, Poznań will be a moment to reflect on the progress made in the past year and it will be an opportunity to clarify plans for the next 12 months. Given the current state of the global economy, and the period of political limbo in the United States as Americans await the swearing-in of their new president, few expect Poznań to yield significant progress in deciding where the world will go after Kyoto. But Poznań is important nonetheless. More than any other stop on the road from Bali to Copenhagen, Poznań will be a telling barometer as to the prospects for fruitful negotiations in Copenhagen.
Who will commit first?
While ironing out the details of a functional technology transfer scheme will be a paramount issue for Ministers, generating the political will required to get the ball rolling is the true obstacle. Given the significant cleavage still existing between developed and developing countries, significant short-term progress is unlikely.
Ministers and other delegates generally agree that the development and transfer of technology from developed countries to developing countries is an essential requirement for the international community if it wants to succeed in addressing climate change. But the lukewarm response from developed countries on the recent Group of 77 (G77) developing countries and China’s proposal that developed countries divert as much as one percent of their gross national product (GNP) to help them achieve this goal suggests that finding the magic formula will be not be easy.
Moreover, many observers now say that what might be harder than agreeing on the numbers and the nature of a technology transfer package will be getting one of the two sides to commit first. As de Boer pointed out in his speech to the Club de Madrid in mid-November, “without ambitious targets by all industrialised countries, developing countries will not see why they should advance mitigation; and without meaningful engagement of developing countries, not all industrialised countries are willing to show ambition.”
Thus negotiating a shared vision for long-term cooperative action on climate change, including a long-term global goal for emission reductions by 2050, becomes all the more critical. Ministers will have to grapple with that, and build the political consensus needed amongst developed and developing countries on the nature and level of commitments in the long-run.
Developed countries are looking to more industrialised developing countries to make binding commitments on reducing emissions. Concerns over the massive amount of emissions generated by countries such as China have many in the developed world insisting that negotiations will not move forward without ambitious commitments.
Developing countries have expressed their discomfort over the suggestion that they be split into separate groups according to their differences - both in terms of emissions and their capacity to help mitigate them. “Mali is not China, and Ethiopia is not Saudi Arabia,” Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s Minister of Climate and Energy said at the Beijing technology transfer meeting in November. More industrialised developing countries are resistant to the move as it could increase their burden of responsibility under a future plan.
In response to the Danish Minister’s aforementioned comments, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, responded strongly that developing countries would resist any attempt to categorise them into different groupings. The objective of the current negotiations is to advance international cooperative action on climate change, as outlined in the Bali Action Plan, not to renegotiate the UNFCCC, van Schalkwyk remarked.
Developing countries want to see real financial investments in technology in any future plan. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao emphasised this position at the recent meeting in Beijing when he called on developed countries to take a leading role by establishing the necessary fiscal and tax measures and enhanced policy guidance and incentives.
“It took developed countries several decades to solve the problems of saving energy and cutting emissions, while China has to solve the same problem in a much shorter period. So the difficulty is unprecedented,” the Chinese premier said at the conference. “Developed countries shoulder the duty and responsibility to tackle climate change and should alter their unsustainable lifestyle.”
The international press have widely interpreted Wen’s comments as a new, hard-line stance on the issue. And several media outlets are now speculating that China will be pressing the future Obama administration to take a more active role in negotiations.
Negotiations and the financial crisis
But even with the widely expected stronger engagement on climate change under Obama, the problems related to footing the bill in the current economic context has led to much pessimistic speculation. And these concerns over the potential chilling effect on climate change spending due to the current global economic turmoil are resonating to the highest levels.
“It is undeniable that the financial crisis will have an impact on the climate change negotiations,” de Boer told Reuters recently. “If we go to citizens under the current circumstances … and say ‘I’m increasing your tax burden in order to pay for climate policy’, that might not go down very well.”
Despite this reality, de Boer insists that the financial crisis is an opportunity for combating climate change, rather than an obstacle. “Clean industry and investment have proven that they offer secure and long-term profits and returns,” de Boer says. “Clean economic growth has the potential to create millions of new jobs. As a result, the financial turmoil may actually be seen as an opportunity to deal in a fundamental manner with some of the closely related issues and address both the financial and climate change crisis together.”
The prospect for implementing a functional emissions trading structure has led to some optimism over the past year. Creative initiatives, such as the recently unveiled UN Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Programme (UN-REDD) - which aims to allow tropical forested developing countries to sell carbon credits for ‘avoided deforestation’, have many close to the negotiations watching carefully.
What’s more, some developed countries have shown that they are interested and willing to participate in carbon offsetting schemes. In fact, Norway has already committed US$35 million to the UN-REDD programme and has pledged to support the programme in the future if the initial stages prove to be promising. The REDD initiative is not without its critics, however. Some environmental organisations are saying forest protection should be handled in a holistic way, outside of the climate regime. Carbon trading in REDD would provide rich countries with a loophole, the option to buy their way out of emissions reductions, argues Friends of the Earth International. Critics also caution that the current carbon market structure is underfunded and in need of better access to financial resources.
The Obama Factor
Campaigning on a platform of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ has left the world looking to Barack Obama to deliver on just that. What is for sure is that the new US administration will alter the landscape of future climate change negotiations.
“My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process,” said Obama recently in an address to a bi-partisan meeting of governors looking at climate change.
The videotaped address spoke directly to those who will be attending COP-14 in Poznań, ensuring them that things would be different with him in the White House. “Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”
But those expecting radical change in US policy or massive new funding initiatives for climate change will likely be disappointed. Delegates have acknowledged that public funding from developed countries should be the main financial source of any future technology transfer mechanism, but securing US funding for this purpose from a more sympathetic government is not a given. While the future Obama administration is likely to be more proactive than what was seen under the Republicans, no new funding for technology transfer, such as that being asked for by China and others, has been proposed.
Nevertheless, expectations for the future role of the US in climate change negotiations are high. “With President-elect Obama, my hope is that the US can take on a leadership role and help to move the negotiations forward,” de Boer said in November.
The fact that Obama is sending a delegation to Poznań is indeed a promising sign. However, it will likely not be until February 2009 - once the new president is firmly ensconced in the White House - that we get a clear sense of the role the United States will play on the road to Copenhagen.
Andrew Aziz is Editor of the BioRes and Periodicals Coordinator at ICTSD. Moustapha Kamal Gueye is Senior Programme Manager, Environment Cluster at ICTSD.
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