Poznań, Days 8, 9 & 10: The Grand Finale

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

I am not normally star-struck by big names, but as people like Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC; U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon; U.N. Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner; and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore appear here in Poznań, I get excited. A few days ago, when I met and spoke with Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, I may or may not have been incredibly flustered.

With all of this star power, I cannot help but hope that the presence of these global leaders will tip the scales in the ongoing closed-door negotiations on a new climate agreement.

But before I discuss today's activities, an update on Days 8 and 9:

On Day 8 (Wednesday), NGOs and delegations continued to discuss key issues, but the Parties were unable to reach consensus on many of them. The "Working Groups" were officially closed in preparation for negotiations at the Ministerial level - the so-called high-level segment of the COP.

The arrival of members of the U.S. Congressional delegation created quite a buzz. I am still amazed at how president-elect Barack Obama has managed to energize and give hope to the entire world, but everyone I met spoke of tempered expectations because the Obama administration has a lot on its plate.

U.S. Congressional staffers held a side event one night, and the medium-sized room had people standing in every available niche. The organizers had to designate an overflow room to accommodate the rest of the crowd.

On Day 9, the high-level segment began, with comments from many of the actors here. U.N. Secretary General Ban falls in the party of believing that the current economic crisis is an incredible opportunity for a green future and a "Green New Deal." He, too, expects the Obama boat to lead the way through the upcoming rough waters of these negotiations. In light of the slow progress so far, he reminded Parties that, "there can be no backsliding in our low-carbon future."  

On Day 10 as Ministers began to tackle the remaining issues, the President of Guyana criticized the lack of leadership from industrialized countries at the conference, noting that, "if people say they can only make commitments in prosperous times, what will developing countries say?" And the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, an island nation that is at risk of disappearing under rising seas, stated flat out that, "we [developing countries] cannot sink while others rise" and "Tuvalu as a nation has the right to exist forever." Now that's getting to the core of things.

Al Gore received the most sustained support when he championed the carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration target of 350 parts per million. Keeping in mind the average high caliber of participants here, the response he got was even more impressive.

I'm writing this at 6 p.m. on Friday, Day 10, and negotiations are still going strong. So far, the issue of the Adaptation Fund has been resolved, with Parties granting the Fund's governing board the authority to directly disburse money to developing countries for emissions-reduction projects. The Fund hasn't been formally launched yet, and the issue of disbursement needed to be decided before then.  

Still up in the air are two critical issues. One is the source of money for the Adaptation Fund. (See my previous post.) The other is whether carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) should be a viable tool under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

CDM projects are meant to encourage private sector investments in projects oriented toward environmentally friendly development. As Venezuela and other developing countries have suggested, if industrialized countries really want to invest in CCS, they should. And if and when the technology is fully developed, then it can be a CDM project. Until then, CCS should not count under CDM; these projects should be reserved for already-available technology.

As of this writing, the use of CCS is still "bracketed" in the ongoing negotiations. That is, instead of letting the contentious text stall the entire process, negotiators just put the options in brackets and deal with it later.

I imagine it could be quite easy to get enveloped in the negotiation process, lose your grounding, and forget what you are working toward. On my way back to the hotel last night, I had a meaningful conversation with two delegates from Jamaica and Belize. The Jamaican delegate, a meteorologist, painted a picture of a region already suffering from the consequences of rising temperatures. It consisted of more frequent and intense hurricanes; of bleached-out coral reefs that are no longer able to buffer islands from the brute power of these storms (which in turn means even more damage on land); and of more droughts and flooding. In short, climate change is upon us, and we had better act now.

It's clear that the international climate change dialogue has shifted here in Poznań. A work plan for 2009 has been approved, and countries have clarified what they need to do to reach an agreement in Copenhagen next year. While progress has been rather slow so far, COP 15 is next December. That gives Parties 12 months to reach a consensus on a post-Kyoto framework. Is this doable? I think so.

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