There won’t be too many major decisions made at this week’s UN climate summit,
but observers will be able to hear the conversation shift and watch battle lines being drawn for the new year and beyond.
Nine thousand delegates from 186 nations arrive in Poznan, Poland today to launch 12 days of talks. It’s the halfway mark in negotiations for the next version of the Kyoto Protocol, to be inked in Copenhagen next year. One of the main policy questions on the table is advancing work on REDD—carbon credits created by reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia—which I wrote about last summer.
But concerns are looming about the impact of business and the economy on climate change, and vice versa.
The EU, which has been the leader in Kyoto negotiations so far, is having its own internal negotiations, concluding the same day as Poznan, which have been marked by "bickering" between France, Germany, and Poland about how to "share the effort" of reducing greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, the UN’s own estimates on the cost of controlling global warming have nearly tripled over last year’s.
And in Washington DC, grassroots climate change activists mounted a spirited defense against the entire principle of carbon cap-and-trade schemes. They occupied the DC offices of Environmental Defense, presenting the large mainstream environmental organization with a "Corporate Greenwash Award" for partnering with companies like Duke Energy, Shell, BP, DuPont, and Dow Chemical to promote cap-and-trade through the US Climate Action Partnership.
Even though market mechanisms have become the centerpiece of international climate change negotiations, with support from the EDFs, Nature Conservancies, and WWFs of the world, a growing coalition of social and environmental groups charges that they are ineffective, unfair to poor and indigenous people, and a giant giveaway to the most polluting industries and companies.
So far, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the largest carbon cap-and-trade scheme in the world, has indeed achieved little in the way of overall additional emission cuts, and the latest European negotiations suggest the activists have a point. Activists charge France is giving away the farm, by putting forward a European compromise that includes free emission rights for coal plants, cash-back for the most polluting industries and extensive use of cuts achieved through projects in developing-world countries.
The one big beacon of hope for progress next year is shining, surprisingly, from the US. John Kerry is Obama’s man in Poznan, stating that America is ready "to pick up the baton and really run with it...to rejoin the world community in tackling the global challenge," and the US is expected to take an Obaman position in this week’s talks, even though we, of course, only have one president at a time.