COP14—Poznań Climate Conference
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Poznań, Poland was the venue for the 14th United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP 14, between December 1 – December 12, 2008.
Drawing over 11,500 participants, this conference continued from where the previous COP 13, the Bali Conference1, left off; to discuss a post-Kyoto international agreement on climate change to take effect in 2013.
This conference will be followed up by a Copenhagen conference in 2009 to finalize the agreement for 2013, so it was important for Poznań to be a productive conference.
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Depending on who you read, or how it was put, the conference outcome was described as anything from a success to a failure.
As summarized by the BBC, the main outcomes from the Poznań2 seem to be the following:
- Management of a UN Adaptation Fund to help developing countries (who will worst hit by the effects of climate change) agreed
- Funds can now be disbursed using a 2% levy on carbon trading under the UN Clean Development Mechanism
- Progress on how environment-friendly technology can be transferred to developing countries
- Agreement that deforestation needs to be reduced
- Recognition that the situation is quite urgent
The United nations tried to put a positive spin on it:
Some developing countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) however, were not as pleased with the outcome, feeling that they were somewhat shut out:
Some emerging and developing economies described the outcome of the meeting as having a
vision gap and even accusing industrialized nations of
callousness and contributing to a
collapse of the talks. A sore issue was the Adaptation Fund:
The problems were apparently brought to light by Prodipto Ghosh, a member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change. Ghosh apparently said that
In the 12 COPs I have been privileged to attend so far, this is one of the saddest moments I have witnessed.
Ghosh also added that talk of 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.
Parallel EU meeting in Brussels
A two-day summit in Brussels, ended on the same day as the COP14 conference ended. The EU summit outcome was a bit surprising given EU’s generally positive step to addressing climate change in the past. As summarized by Inter Press Service, the summit saw a drastic amendment to the way energy-intensive firms pay for their emissions of greenhouse gases6.
Following pressure from Germany, Italy, Poland, BusinessEurope (an umbrella group for multinational companies) and a few others, the previous agreements whereby EU firms would have to buy permits to pollute from 2013 onwards was changed to give the manufacturing sector generous exemptions from having to pay.
Needless to say that environment and anti-poverty groups were furious at this (which the previous Inter Press Service article details).
Some groups claimed the EU had watered down the initial proposals7. Germany, for example, was accused of wanting to protect its large manufacturing sector during its recession, while Poland and Hungary for example, depend a lot on coal.
The EU did agree, however, to a 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with 1990 level. But this too seems less than ideal as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that 25-40% reduction is needed by then.
Progress on tackling climate change is spotty at best
This all comes soon after the UNFCCC reported (November 17, 2008) that although industrialized nations have reduced emissions between 1990 and 2006, in recent years, between 2000 and 2006, greenhouse gas emissions have generally increased by 2.3% 8.
This is despite an overall decrease of 4.7% since 1990. However, the more recent period suggests the rich country emission reductions are not sustainable. Furthermore, it looks worse considering a large part of this decrease is because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. As transition economies started to recover around 2000, emissions have started to rise.
Some nations with large reductions are also seeing limits10, for example:
- UK (15.1% reduction) benefited by switching from coal to natural gas but that switch is largely in place now.
- Germany (18.2% reduction) has certainly invested in greenhouse gas emission reductions, but has been helped in large part because of reunification (East Germany, like much of eastern Europe and former Soviet states had economic problems, hence less emissions at the time).
- Other reductions have come in part from relocating manufacturing to other places such as China, which now claims at least one third of its emissions are because of production for others 11.
The Inter Press Service noted some additional interesting trends with other nations on tackling climate change12:
- China is dedicating one-fourth of its sizable economic stimulus plan to scale up renewable fuels, environmental protection and energy conservation.
- Denmark (that will host next year’s landmark conference) is investing in green growth. Since 1980, it has grown its gross domestic produce (GDP) by 78 percent with only minimal increases in energy use.
- Brazil has built one of the greenest economies in the world, creating millions of new jobs in the process.
- India has launched a comprehensive National Climate Change Action Plan that lays out the path for shifting to greater reliance on sustainable sources of energy, particularly solar power. India is also fourth in the world in terms of new wind capacity.
- UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer added,
Mexico, South Africa and Indonesia have new climate change strategies, he said. India, China and Egypt have climate change plans and programs. Nigeria, Angola and Pakistan are developing theirs.
All these parties and more have identified additional mitigation actions that can be implemented with measurable, reportable and verifiable support.
Democracy Now! reported that several key developing countries have agreed to set goals for cutting emissions of greenhouse gas13. This included Mexico agreeing to a date of 2050 to cut carbon emissions 50 percent below 2002 levels, and Brazil to reduce emissions by up to 45 percent by cutting its annual deforestation rate by 70 percent.
Many are hoping that Barack Obama becoming President of the US will make a crucial different. For example, he promised to engage
vigorously on climate change. During his election campaign he had even talked of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.
Australia recently announced a plan to combat climate change by aiming to reduce emissions by between 5% and 15% by 2020 from 2000 levels and introducing a carbon trading scheme in 2010. Many environmentalists and others have reacted very negatively to this saying more needs to be done14. The UN’s specialist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that 25-40% reduction by 2020 is needed, for example.
Australian climate change minister, Penny Wong defended the plan by saying the scheme seeks to
strike the right balance between the needs of the environment and Australia’s economy.
Climate change and the global financial crisis
Australia’s concern, above, is typical of many nations, fearing that addressing climate change will affect their economies, many of which are now facing serious problems in the global financial crisis15.
It is possible that if the global financial crisis gets worse, emissions reductions will reduce as a result. Although some may view this as a blessing in disguise, this is an unfortunate way to reduce emissions, because governments will rightly be trying to get out of the crisis. Instead, there may be a deeper issue that the predominant economic ideologies may not be compatible with emission reductions.
This is not a given, either, to be fair, because the current financial crisis is so severe that alternative economic systems or minor adjustments are being considered that could have a significant knock-on effect in terms of the environment.
In addition, as reported by Inter Press Service, UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon also noted a potentially positive relationship between the tackling the global financial crisis and tackling climate change16, noting that,
Managing the global financial crisis requires massive global stimulus. A big part of that spending should be an investment … in a green future … that fights climate change, creates millions of green jobs and spurs green growth.
The lack of serious political will to invest in environmentally-friendly alternatives—an option that could have been pursued any time in the last two or more decades when much about the effects of climate change was well-established—makes the potential costs of not doing anything even higher. But it also raises the cost of investment needed when left later, which is why some nations seem afraid of committing too much.
Yet, as each wasted year passes, the situation gets worse. Climate scientists are now fearing that climate change is happening far faster and is having much larger impacts than they ever imagined17.
- Confronting Climate Change18 coverage of climate change issues from around the world, from Inter Press Service
- Coverage from OneClimate.net19, a project of OneWorld.net
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