Why does Poznan matter?

UN-led climate-change talks in Poland this week are a key step in one of the most important – and complex – negotiations the world has ever seen. Tan Copsey explains.

What is happening in Poznan?

United Nations-led talks in Poznan, Poland – which start today – will mark the half-way stage of negotiations to form a new global agreement to prevent dangerous climate change. The process began last year at a conference in Bali, Indonesia and will end in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009. The agreement will succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Yvo De Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), called it “one of the most complicated negotiating processes the international community has ever seen.” It is also one of the most important.

Like last year's meeting in Bali, Poznan will play host to a vast array of national representatives, as well as intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental groups and the world’s media. chinadialogue will be there to bring you coverage, as part of our “Bali to Copenhagen” project.

Why does it matter?

The conference will be an opportunity to push forward a difficult negotiating process: after a year of exploration and consideration of new ideas, the UNFCCC will circulate at Poznan the first draft of a new global agreement. This text will be considered, argued over and redrafted in the coming year, before, hopefully, being finalised at the Copenhagen conference.

However, with global economic conditions in a state of flux, there is also the fear that negotiations could lose crucial momentum. It doesn’t help, either, that Poznan will mark the last gasp of the uncooperative Bush administration of the United States, or that the conference will be hosted by Poland, a country unsure if its interests are compatible with significant reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions. Poznan may only be a step along the way to Copenhagen, but if things go badly it could be a serious roadblock, ruining chances of any serious agreement being reached next year.

What issues are on the table?

The key to any new agreement will be the level of commitment taken on by developed countries. They, in turn, will need firmer commitments from the largest developing countries. Poznan will see some discussion of the form these commitments could take: it is generally accepted that rich nations will take on deeper emissions cuts in exchange for voluntary reductions from their developing counterparts. Crucial to any new agreement will be how to make emissions reductions measurable, reportable and verifiable. This issue, however, is likely to be deferred until the Copenhagen meeting.

A lot can be achieved at Poznan if things go smoothly. The conference is not only about the next global agreement, but also what can be done now to improve the Kyoto Protocol until it expires. The UN will also be putting some firm measures in place, including a global adaptation fund to help poorer countries already feeling the impacts of climate change. The fund will draw revenues from a levy on the global emissions scheme, the Clean Development Mechanism.

There will be serious discussion of how to effectively finance low-carbon development and how to facilitate the transfer of clean technologies. Other issues on the table include reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and reform of the Clean Development Mechanism.

Who are the major players?

The European Union and the US are the crucial players in the developed world. China and India are the most important developing nations. As well as being major emitters, together they hold the key to forming a new agreement.

Will the US change its position?

There will only be one US delegation at the conference and it will be led by representatives of the Bush administration. This means significant changes to the American position are unlikely at Poznan. However, many nations are already beginning to informally seek the opinion of president-elect Barack Obama and his transition team, and members of Congress attending the conference will report back to Obama, who has sent a strong signal by promising that when he becomes president “the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

What about China?

China is now seeking significant technological assistance and financial support as part of a new global deal. Tang Xuepeng writes on chinadialogue that the Chinese government supports a proposal for developed nations to contribute 1% of their GDP to aid the transfer of clean energy technologies to developing nations. Some experts argue that China already possesses most of the relevant technology and expertise, and that calls for further assistance are a delaying tactic to stave off calls, from the EU and others, that China take on emissions reductions signficantly below business-as-usual levels as part of a global deal.

Who else should I watch?

Observers will also be following Canada and Japan closely. Both countries have had significant problems meeting their Kyoto targets and could alter long-held positions: though neither is likely to opt out of the process entirely, they are unlikely to push for stringent reduction targets. There are also dissenting voices within Europe. For instance, Italy has been voicing concerns about far-reaching EU targets.

What about the hosts?

Despite its membership of the EU, Polish concerns are closer to those of economies in transition, such as Russia, and advanced developing countries like China. Many in Poland are concerned about the country’s ability to meet its EU-mandated targets while continuing to grow and rebuild its industry. Poland has a power sector dominated by carbon-intensive coal-fired power plants, and large coal reserves. At the Kyoto conference in 1997, host nation Japan took on considerable emissions reduction commitments as a means of securing a global agreement. In contrast, Poland is unlikely to seek to promote far-reaching commitments that might negatively impact its economy.

How will the global financial crisis affect the talks?

The economic downturn will have implications for these talks. Considering the state of the markets, it is “fortunate that a deal does not have to be done in Poznan” De Boer remarked recently. However, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has argued that the global financial meltdown can actually provide an opportunity to address global warming. In a joint statement with the leaders of Indonesia, Poland and Denmark he asserted that nations need to find “common solutions to the grave challenges facing us. And when it comes to two of the most serious — the financial crisis and climate change — that answer is the green economy.”

Poznan may be marked by difficult, complex negotiations, but it is an important step on the road to Copenhagen and a new global deal that will determine our common futures.

Tan Copsey is operations and development manager at chinadialogue.