Posted by: JohnnyRook | December 15, 2008

Summing up Poznan: “Vision Gap” or “Waiting for Obama?”

So, what happened in Poznan last week?

Was the New York Times right when it wrote?

Amid a Hopeful Mood, U.N. Talks Set Countries on Path Toward a Global Climate Treaty

The United Nations climate talks concluded here early Saturday, having seemingly achieved their modest goals and then some: setting the world on the track to a new global climate treaty with a renewed sense of purpose and momentum.

Or was the Washington Post’s headline and lead paragraph more accurate?

Next climate summit may turn on rich nations’ approach to poor ones

The acrimonious end to the United Nations talks here early Saturday morning highlights the challenge rich and poor countries will face as they seek a global climate pact in the coming year, as well as a possible path toward compromise.

On track or acrimonious, which was it?

According to Ramesh Jaura of IPS quoting Indian journalist,Joydeep Gupta, the problem was a lack of vision.

The developing and emerging economies accused the industrialised nations of “callousness” and a “vision gap” that were reflected in their rejection of a key deal that would enable the poor states to cope with global warming.

The deal he refers to concerns the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

This (the CDM) would provide additional money for the current 60 million dollar fund that helps poor countries protect themselves against floods, drought and storms. While the industrial nations admitted that billions of dollars are needed for the challenging task, they did not agree to increase from two to three the percentage of levy from the carbon market.

This brought the talks to an inevitable collapse. A source present at the meeting said the opponents of the scheme were led by the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia and Russia.

The collapse became evident about three hours into the start of the final plenary session of the UN conference.

Before that, Poland’s environment minister Maciej Nowicki, president of the Poznan conference of parties (COP), as such gatherings are called in UN jargon, had announced that an Adaptation Fund that would provide money to least developed countries (LDC) to cope with climate change effects had become operational at the Poznan summit.

“It was India which brought the collapse out into the open, through Prodipto Ghosh, member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change,” said , an Indian journalist covering the Poznan meeting.

Ghosh is reported to have said at the meeting: “In the 12 COPs I have been privileged to attend so far, this is one of the saddest moments I have witnessed.”

Ghosh said the Article 9 review, which was looking at the increase of the levy from two to three percent, “fell apart for one, and one reason only; that is the refusal of some parties (countries) to experience the least loss of profits from trading in carbon.

“Let us look at why this refusal is tragic and painful,” Ghosh told those of the over 3,000 delegates from 186 countries who were still left in the final plenary session.

“Even now, millions of poor people in developing countries are losing their homes, their livelihoods, and their lives from impacts of climate change. Most live in extreme privation at the best of times; climate change takes away their pitiable homes, hearths and bread.”

In responding to this situation, Ghosh said: “What did we hear from the parties who could not bear to be parted from a small share of their carbon profits? That we need to agree on the overall architecture before they can provide any money.

“In the face of the unbearable human tragedy that we in developing countries see unfolding every day, we see callousness, strategising and obfuscation. We can all of us, now see clearly what lies ahead at Copenhagen.”

A more optimistic note was sounded in an editorial in the Independent , which claimed that the real message of Poznan is that “the world is waiting for Obama.”

So, if it has been a struggle for journalists to find anything new to report from Poznan, and if it has been a struggle for consumers of media outputs to work out whether anything new happened last week, the reason is simple. The world is waiting for Barack Obama.

That does not mean that Poznan was pointless. The politics, economics and technical design of global policy to mitigate the effect of humanity on the climate are headachingly difficult. The frankly tedious detail of how to limit carbon emissions, and to put a price on activity that harms the environment, needs a lot of talking, not all of it newsworthy.

The important issue, though, is not what was achieved last week. On that, Friends of the Earth is right to say that little progress was made. The big question is whether an effective deal can be reached at Copenhagen in 12 months’ time. And that depends, more than anything else, on the new US administration. Two other centres of power are important, namely the UN civil service, led by Ban Ki-moon, and the Chinese Politburo. Mr Ban has said many of the right things since he took over as UN Secretary-General a year ago, and the Chinese leadership certainly takes the issue seriously, has taken some action at home and also pays lip service to the need for global action.

But it is the attitude of the US government that is most important of all, and for once it is no exaggeration to say that, on this issue, president-elect Obama is the most powerful person in the world. What is even more extraordinary, perhaps, is that the early signs from that American constitutional peculiarity, the transition, are hopeful.

Quite clearly it’s not just Americans who have high hopes for the President-elect. Expectations are great around the world that the United States can provide the leadership that is needed on Climaticide. It’s popular to talk about how difficult the challenges are that Obama will face as a result of the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration, and there is no doubt that we face very large, real problems, but something significant has changed.

The rebirth of hope that the Obama campaign inspired wasn’t limited to the United States. It wasn’t just Americans who were waiting to have their hope restored. Many abroad felt the same way. “Yes, we can” is a message with universal appeal.

Obviously, the United States faces many foreign policy challenges starting with withdrawal from Iraq. But the climate crisis has presented Obama with a tremendous opportunity. It has become a commonplace to say that it will take a generation to restore the United States’ standing in the world. But the climate crisis offers a unique opportunity to change that. By taking the lead in reaching an equitable and science-based international agreement on global warming, the new administration has the opportunity (providing it adopts reasonable policies on the many other foreign policy issues that it confronts) to restore the reputation of the United States abroad almost immediately.

It is for this reason that the Obama administration must do everything in its power to succeed at COP 15 in Copenhagen in December, 2009. It will not be enough to simply “make progress”. During those meetings agreement must be reached on binding targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions by developed countries (as well as less ambitious targets for developing countries) and on a mechanism for adequately funding adaptation measures in and sustainable technology transfer to the developing world.


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