From depressing to REALLY depressing: from Ottawa to Poznan

Elizabeth May

Poznan, Poland: I wish I could share better news.  The atmosphere here at the 14th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Fourth Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol is simply bleak.  There were no official negotiations today due to the Hajj. So most of what occurred was in corridor chat and press conferences.
With the deadline for completion of negotiations for a meaningful protocol to kick into gear on January 1, 2013 – the minute the first phase of Kyoto closes – a year from now in Copenhagen, delegates are openly talking of failure.
The Pew Centre on Climate, usually a helpful source of policy advice, has launched an entirely defeatist analysis -- arguing that the new US President cannot be expected to be ready to take on new commitments by next year, especially in light of the financial crisis.  Meanwhile, the deadline is not about what is “easy” for a US President (or a Canadian Prime Minister, for that matter) but what is necessary to avoid passing the points of no return in the global atmosphere.  We are in a race against time and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with atmospheric chemistry. If we fail to reduce emissions quite sharply and soon, we could trigger a runaway global warming disaster.  The atmosphere is not the last bit interested in negotiating with humanity.
Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, has forcefully rejected the Pew argument.  But of course, the US chief negotiator, Harlan Watson who is still, of course, taking his orders from Bush, was quick to agree. 
De Boer argues quite rightly that rich nations should agree in 2009 to cuts in emissions until 2020. But (in an interview with the Reuters news service) he also said that the Copenhagen agreement could be “ratifiable,” leaving some of the details for later discussion.

“Countries launched a negotiation in Bali a year ago and agreed to complete it in a year's time in Copenhagen,” he told Reuters. “To begin to wobble on that resolve halfway through that process is not helpful.”
Meanwhile, India is livid that the rich nations, with no money for climate, find it relatively easy to find billions to bail out their financial sectors and for economic stimulus packages.

"What we are saying is that if in a compelling crisis governments are able to find the resources amounting to hundreds of billion of dollars then what about climate change?

"So you able to mobilise hundreds of billions of dollars to deal with an economic crisis but not able to mobilise part of that to meet a planetary crisis?" Shyam Saran, India's top negotiator at the UN climate conference, told the Guardian.
Everyone with whom I speak is heart-broken that Canada’s government has been so unhelpful, demanding special exemptions  -- claiming we are big and cold and have really polluting tar sands.  (The only government to be heaped with more scorn was Kuwait for claiming it deserved access to developing country funds for adaptation because it is low sea level!).
I hear that the youth delegates burst into tears – from many countries around the world – when news reached them that the Canadian Prime Minister was hanging on to power by shutting down the Parliament.  One British NGO I ran into today was deeply shocked, “But that’s so undemocratic! Proroguing the House to avoid losing a vote?!”
Many delegates remember Stéphane Dion as President of COP11.  He is held in very great respect for his leadership at that conference, so word of his resignation was also met with dismay by people from around the world.  Same planet. Different perspectives.
At a session on climate justice, a good friend and colleague from El Salvador, Dr Ricardo Navarro, delivered a devastating analysis.  With CO2 levels approaching 390 ppm, there is no time for delay, he told delegates.  Here is some of what he said from my notes:
“Seven months ago a tropical cyclone hit Burma.  150,000 people were killed. That is Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  And here are the rich countries trying to get out of reducing their own emissions with carbon trading.  They have no ethical principles.  This is criminal behaviour….

“It is a matter of justice. Rich nations must compensate for the damage they have done to poor people. Government people here have nearly complete faith in the market, but it is the market that allowed this problem to be created. How can we solve the problem, as Einstein once said, with the same attitudes that caused it in the beginning?

“The situation is very serious, yet we see no commitments or political will to solve the problem. We could take the military budget of the world, $1 trillion a year, and put it toward solving the climate crisis.  But no one speaks of this.  For the hope of humanity we have to radically alter the discussion.”
If there is hope here, it is that the delegation dispatched by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama (Senator John Kerry, Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar and more) will arrive with a clear commitment to action.  Maybe they can do for climate negotiations what they did today for markets.  The mood is not optimistic, but (as Barbara Ward once said) “we all have a duty to hope.”