While the UN-sponsored climate change meet at Poznan, Poland concluded Saturday with a very modest agreement, disappointing many, the European Union agreed the previous day on some drastic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.
The delegates at the Poland meet agreed only on a narrowly framed interim document that leaves all the difficult negotiating until next year.
AdvertisementMuch of the negotiations focused on highly technical details, including how to measure deforestation and how to legally define an international fund aimed at helping poor countries adapt to climate change. But the core questions - how much industrialized countries will slash their emissions, what they expect in return from major emerging economies, and what they will do to help poorer countries pursue low-carbon development - remained untouched.
The mood of developing countries at Poznan, Poland was bitter. "The world had immense hopes that the Poznan Conference Of Parties (COP) would send a clear signal ... that would herald a new era in global cooperation," senior Indian negotiator Pradipto Ghosh told delegates, as the meet ended at 3 a.m. after a deadlock on the issue of expanding resources for a fund to help the poorest countries adapt themselves to climate change impacts rising sea levels, melting glaciers and spreading deserts.
"But in the face of the unbearable human tragedy that we see unfolding every day, we have seen callousness, strategising and obfuscation," he said, adding the negotiations fell apart because of developed countries which "could not bear to be parted from even a miniscule share of their carbon profits."
"There is a growing vision gap between the two sides," said the delegate from the African nation of Gabon.
That gap will do nothing to ease the way as delegates prepare for the 12-month road to Copenhagen, where the next COP is expected to end in a global pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change through mitigation, adaptation, technology and financial efforts.
"We were not asking for a lot here. The voices of weeping victims have not been heard. We are talking about an emergency, but we have not felt that emergency," said Colombian delegate Juan Lozano Ramirez.
"Finance for adaptation is not about a compromise text, not about strategies or tactics. It is all about human lives," said Costa Rican delegate Christiana Figueres, adding that unless the developed countries moved from well-meant declarations to concrete action, it would not "bode well for Copenhagen."
Su Wei, one of China's top negotiators, said most decisions made in Poznan "are almost empty" because the industrialized nations had not provided details on how they would transfer technology to developing countries and help them adapt to a changing climate.
But Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's climate and energy minister who will chair next year's meeting, said negotiators had put "the building blocks" in place to reach a broad accord by then. She said some negotiators had become consumed with procedural details and needed to realize they were accountable both to the leaders who appoint them and to the citizens they represent.
"You can't forge such a huge international agreement without the involvement of heads of state," she said. "In the end, this is about political responsibility and political will."
Still the note of disappointment was there for all to see.
But the EU pact did offer some solace. The European leaders, meeting at Brussels, committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Europe by 20 percent before 2020 - and by 30 percent if other countries make comparable pledges at a U.N. environment conference scheduled for next year in Copenhagen.
To reach their goals, the leaders pledged that 20 percent of their energy will come from renewable sources by 2020, leading to predictions of windmill farms across the European countryside and carpets of solar panels such as those that were recently installed atop the Vatican in Rome.
In a measure of the expenses the pledge seemed likely to entail, only about 8.5 percent of Europe's energy now comes from renewable sources, much of it from hydroelectric or nuclear power stations. Experts predicted that the steps needed to reach the targets could raise electricity bills in Europe by as much as 15 percent for industrial users and add nearly $200 to the average household's annual bill.
Eastern European countries fought to get compensation for changes that will be necessary there if the goals are to be met. Poland, for instance, gets as much as 90 percent of its electricity from Soviet-era coal-fired generators, which are a major pollutant and, under the accord, would be forced to pay heavily for the carbon dioxide they spew into the air.
Under complicated formulas worked out in recent months, Polish and other high-pollution Eastern European industries will receive a disproportionate amount of subsidies to finance their part in a pay-to-pollute program. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters he was satisfied with the outcome, despite previous reservations and flashed a victory sign to television cameras as he got in a car at the close of the summit.
Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had threatened a veto to protect several high-pollution industries in his country, said he also backed off because he did not want to play the role of spoiler after it became clear a strong majority favored going ahead with the pact. Similarly, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany declared the agreement a victory for Europe despite earlier fears that her country's giant economy would be called on to underpin the subsidies for Eastern Europe.
In recent weeks, Merkel has been called "Madame No" by the French media because of her hesitations over the antipollution reforms as well as the free-spending economic stimulus plan promoted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain. But in the end, she endorsed them both.
" 'Yes' has been the motto of the day," she told reporters on leaving Brussels.
One reason, according to environmental activists, was that fine print in the pact provided for a host of loopholes benefiting big business in Germany as well as in Eastern Europe, particularly high electricity-consuming industries such as steel. Sanjeev Kumar of the World Wildlife Fund said the accord as it finally took shape has "several gaping holes" that give pollution-causing industries an out.
Sarkozy's environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, said the loopholes were designed to protect European industries that might be at a competitive disadvantage if next year's Copenhagen conference fails to produce a worldwide commitment on the same level as the one undertaken Friday by Europe. His comment seemed aimed particularly at the United States and China, two nations that have been reluctant to allow steps against global warming hobble their manufacturing industries.
Much will depend on how far President-elect Barack Obama is willing to move forward at a time his country is in the grip of a severe industrial crisis.
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