POZNAN COMMENTARY: Rhetoric and reality at climate talks

Posted: 15 December 2008

The clear message that came out of the last days of the United Nations climate talks at Poznan in Poland was that the two crises of our times - economic recession and global warming - should be tackled together, says Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network, in this commentary on the rhetoric and reality of the talks in Poznan and the decisions reached at the simultaneous EU gathering in Lisbon.

Al Gore addresses Poznan Conference
Al Gore addresses Poznan Conference
Former US Vice-President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Al Gore addresses delegates on the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for action.
The UN secretary-general and some world leaders, speaking at the opening ceremony of the ministerial segment of the two-week talks, made a common point. If the US and Europe can come up with so many trillions of dollars to save their financial institutions within a few months, surely there is money to tackle the climate crisis, which is a far bigger problem involving the world's survival.

This comment was made most emphatically by Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo, who warned of an emerging mood that countries cannot act on climate when there is an economic crisis.

"If Europe sends a signal that it can make commitments on climate only in prosperous times, what are developing countries, including India and China, going to say?" he asked. "Some balk at the financial resources required, but if there is political will this money can be found, like the US$7 tril (RM25tril) raised for tackling the financial crisis.

"We hear the banks and financial institutions need to be bailed out as they are too big to fail. Climate change is an even bigger problem, in which we cannot fail."

Green future

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said the world faced two crises, the financial and climate crises. He proposed that a big part of the fiscal stimulus that countries are planning to counter the recession with be spent on investing in a green future that fights climate change and creates jobs.

He said that leadership is needed, and mentioned Europe, the US (where the incoming administration is putting energy and climate at the centre of US policy), China (where one fourth of its fiscal stimulus package is to scale up energy conservation and environmental protection), and India (with its climate plan and its development of solar and wind energy).

"The coming year is the year of climate change," Ban said. "While the economic crisis is serious, the stakes in climate are higher, and climate change must be at the top of our national agendas. There can be no backsliding."

High tide Tuvalu
High tide Tuvalu
On Tuvalu, where the highest ground is just 4.5 metres above mean tide level, islanders nervously await 'king tides', the year's highest tides. Photo © FOEI/Gary Braasch
He called on countries to break free from entrenched positions, from who is to blame and who will move first.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia, whose Pacific island state is facing extinction from rising sea levels, attacked the lack of progress in the fund under the Kyoto Protocol meant to help countries adapt to climate change.

"We need the funds now as climate change is already affecting us," he said. "But some key developed countries are making the adaptation fund inaccessible to developing countries. This is totally unacceptable."

Targets lowered

While the Poznan talks were going on, bad news came from a summit of European leaders in Brussels which decided to lower the targets set for their industries to comply with regulations to limit their Greenhouse Gas emissions. The companies are asked to cap their emissions at specified levels and those exceeding these have to pay for permits under the original scheme.

The Brussels meeting last Friday agreed to exempt many of the most polluting industries from payment, after complaints from auto and other companies affected by the recession.

Major groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Oxfam immediately attacked the decision as a betrayal of what had previouslybeen European leadership on climate action.

Although the European Union is to keep its target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, the groups estimated the Summit decision will allow companies to pay others outside the EU to undertake up to two-thirds of the total reduction for them. There will thus be little domestic action to curb emissions, so the high rhetoric in Poznan was being contradicted by the political decisions in Brussels.

The Poznan meeting was given a little boost by the presence of some American figures linked to US President-elect Barack Obama, like Senator John Kerry who promised the new administration would soon take climate action at home and globally.

The proof of the pudding is, however, in the eating, and we will soon see if this rhetoric is matched or contrasted with real action by the US, which under President Bush has been the worst "climate sceptic"

The Poznan talks ended early on Saturday morning, and there will be many more meetings next year as the countries race to reach a global deal on actions by December.

Source: The Star newspaper, Malaysia (15 December 2008).

More news about the Poznan meeting from the Penang-based Third World Network can be found here

For a detailed account of the outcome of the Poznan conference see the Environment News Service (ENS) report here