Poznań, Day 1: Beginnings of a “Shared Vision”

PoznanI am writing from Poznań, Poland, where the 14th Conference of Parties (COP 14) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has begun. The energy in the conference center is exhilarating, and you can feel the wheels churning in everyone's minds as they work toward a "shared vision" for the next climate change agreement in Copenhagen. 

The COP process has only one year before it must produce a climate change agreement that will reduce global emissions to a level that would avoid catastrophic changes to the world as we know it. We as a planet have very little time before we irreversibly alter our environment. Both industrialized and developing countries must agree to an emissions reduction goal by next year, and they have several tools to do so. In the end, Poznań must deliver a clear program of work for 2009 and send a strong signal to the world and participating governments that it is time to stop dawdling, to buckle down, and to get to work.

As the halfway point between the 2007 "Bali Roadmap" and the 2009 Copenhagen agreement where a successor to the Kyoto Protocol - the second commitment period under Kyoto - will hopefully be anointed, hopes are high but expectations are mixed. Poznań and the path to Copenhagen face plenty of challenges: the world is in the midst of the financial crisis, the U.S. delegation is on "standby mode," the Obama administration may not be ready yet to sign a climate change agreement come December 2009, and current EU climate negotiations are on uncertain footing. Even Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, expressed concerns that a Copenhagen agreement might not be ready

There is still hope and cautious optimism amid all this turmoil, and a need for strong political will. An important outcome of COP 13 in Bali-developing countries expressing an interest and willingness to take action-is still carrying through even a year later in Poznań. And today is but the first day, full primarily of approving work plans for the next two weeks.

The COP started with positive statements regarding the outcomes of this conference. The view that the current financial crisis is an incredible opportunity has taken hold, and opening remarks by the Prime Minister of Denmark, also the President of COP 13, noted that the crisis is not a good excuse for inaction. Indeed, talks of a "green deal" to revive economies and create jobs worldwide have spread across the world. My colleagues at Worldwatch have put a lot of thought into green jobs and a green deal, and these ideas could soon be transformed into action.

People here are understandably curious about Obama, the new administration, and how these fit into the negotiations. A look of disappointment and concern are the usual responses when I tell them that, as Obama has pointed out multiple times, there is only one President of the United States at a time. The U.S. delegation here is from the Bush administration. As of late this afternoon, they have not spoken up in any of the sessions. I am not the only person wondering what they will say when they do engage.

The real buzz in Poznań today, however, surrounds the European Union, Canada, and the UK, and it is occurring outside of the COP:

  • With EU climate negotiations currently under way in Brussels as well, France, which holds the presidency of the EU, is having a difficult time passing the climate change package championed primarily by itself and Germany. Last spring, the EU proposed a 30-percent emissions reduction target below 1990 levels by 2020 in the presence of an international deal, and a 20-percent target if the region mitigated its emissions alone. But now, some countries are considering backing out of their 30 percent commitments even if there is an agreement in Copenhagen. The EU has so far been a strong leader of climate change mitigation, but it seems very tempted to relinquish that title. The implications for Poznań and the road to Copenhagen could be serious.
  • On a different note, Canada is on the brink of having a coalition government replace the ruling conservative party that was re-elected not long ago. This coalition government is expected to be much more agreeable to preventing catastrophic levels of climate change.
  • And last week, the United Kingdom adopted a Climate Change Bill that set a national emissions reduction target of at least 42 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 with a Copenhagen agreement; otherwise, the target is 34 percent, which equates to the UK portion of the 30 percent by 2020 mentioned above. This is indeed exciting news, as the UK will be one-upping targets set in Germany and Norway by 2 percent.  

Meanwhile in Poznań, Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reminded delegates in his opening comments of the emissions reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a target that the scientific community is increasingly calling for. The climate change powers that be are in motion!

My first day at my first COP has been a whirlwind of excitement and jetlag, and I am pretty tired. But now I am off to a reception that the COP 14 hosts are holding in my (and all other participants') honor. I shouldn't keep them waiting!

Amanda Chiu is a MAP Sustainable Energy Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.