Poznań, Days 2 & 3: What’s Your Shared Vision?

Poznan adAmanda Chiu reports from the 14th Conference of Parties (COP 14) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poznań, Poland.

Here in Poznań, the pace and quality of formal dialogues picked up very quickly in Days 2 and 3. I want to highlight the continued discussion on a "shared vision" for the Copenhagen climate change agreement, which spanned both days. I sat in on the workshop the first day, and the conversation was quite interesting and substantive.

Acronyms run wild here, and for good reason. For the curious, the workshop was for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, or AWG-LCA.  The purpose of the AWG-LCA is to begin the process of delineating the new international agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the 2nd commitment period (after 2012), to be decided in Copenhagen next year. There are two AWGs (the other one is the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, or AWG-KP). These Working Groups allow for more focused discussions

During the AWG-LCA workshop, a number of countries - also known as the Parties to the UNFCCC - presented their view of what the "shared vision" should be, often reminding each other of the principles defined in the Article 3 of the Convention. In brief, Article 3 states, and the presenters reiterated, that:

  • actions should be taken to "protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities";
  • industrialized countries should lead the world in "combating climate change and other adverse effects";
  • special consideration should be given to developing countries because they are the most vulnerable to "adverse effects of climate change";
  • Parties should have a risk-averse mindset for any measures related to climate change, despite any "lack of full scientific certainty" (the precautionary principle);
  • sustainable development is good and desired and is a right that all Parties have; and
  • Parties should "promote a supportive and open international economic system" that would complement and enhance sustainable development.

China, citing the equity language of Article 3, mentioned the need for eventual "global per-capita emissions convergence" - the idea that, at some point in the future, all countries in the world should have similar per-capita emissions as a matter of climate equity. But this concept did not pick up momentum, at least not in the workshop. We'll see if anything changes, because this is still an ongoing discussion. India has long been a supporter of convergence as well.

Developing countries spoke up as they applied more pressure to industrialized countries to take the lead in addressing climate change, a principle also stated in Article 3. Brazil, however, called for non-Annex I Parties (i.e., developing countries) to deviate from their baseline emissions and start reducing their emissions as well. The EU seconded this call, but I think the statement from Brazil resonates a little more with developing countries.

India stressed the need for equity in development issues as well, and an Indian delegate even said, "If the deal in Copenhagen is not an equal deal, then there is no deal." (In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, which is consensus based, all Parties must agree for there to be any deal.) 

India also brought up the "polluter pays principle," reminding industrialized countries of their responsibilities because they have historically contributed the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Being told over and over again that climate change is mostly your fault (even if it is) can be frustrating, but developing countries keep bringing this up because industrialized countries have not - and are not - doing enough.

Japan highlighted technological, lifestyle, and infrastructure innovations as tools to mitigate climate change and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon society. A member of their delegation added some levity to the meeting when asked to clarify the "lifestyle innovations" they were proposing. The response went something like this: "I like to take showers, and I take 7 showers a week for 30 minutes at a time. I could cut it down 15 minutes a day or even down to 3 showers a week to save water." 

The other members of the Japanese delegation gave short shrift to this proposal, but after a full day of serious discussions, I found it welcome. ECO, the quirky daily newsletter published by Climate Action Network (CAN) groups, awarded Japan the 2nd place "Fossil of the Day" Award for this comment. Fossil Awards are meant to highlight the particularly bad behavior of Parties at the COP. Japan also won the dishonorable 1st place Fossil Award for proposing that Annex I countries aim to reduce their emissions by 50 percent by 2050, but with the baseline being current emissions levels, and not the lower 1990 levels.

The European Union proposed a 30 percent emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, a target they developed a while ago but which is now undergoing scrutiny at the European Parliament. China reiterated the industrialized countries' target of a 25-40 percent reduction by 2020, with a baseline of 2005 emissions, that was agreed upon before COP 13, as well as an industrialized country target of 80-90 percent reductions by 2050.

There was some confusion about the EU presentation, which mentioned the region's emissions reductions and GDP growth together. Some thought the EU was trying to develop a cause-and-effect relationship between emissions reductions and economic growth. But Thomas Becker, chief negotiator for Denmark, made a very good point of saying that we should be trying to delink economic development from greenhouse gas emissions, as this is crucial for sustainable development.

In general, I thought the workshop was successful in adding substance to the dialogue, and now that the COP has warmed up, discussions in the near future should be good.

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