Bottom of the Ninth in Poznan

by John Anthony, Energy and Climate Communications Director, UN Foundation, writing from the UN climate summit in Poznan, Poland

It’s the bottom of the ninth inning for the UN climate change talks here in Poznan, Poland. What that equates to are issues – the clean development mechanism, (CDM) (which awards credits for funding clean energy and preventative deforestation projects,) adaptation, deforestation and other negotiating tracks all reporting out the language they have been hammering out in parallel during the past two weeks, to the full COP – The Conference of Parties (signatories) to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change – a product of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. To compare the process to the U.S. legislative landscape, envision a bill moving through the subcommittee, full committee, and full floor consideration process.

Negotiations at this stage dragged on until 4 a.m Saturday morning last year in Bali, and even then there was no agreement, and discussions were postponed several hours so weary delegates could sleep and make decisions with a clearer head. That could easily be the case here in Poznan, as a good bit of next year’s penultimate negotiations, and decisions, in Copenhagen hinge on how much of the issue agenda can be agreed to, and set, here in Poznan tonight.The numbers are well known to most who follow the issue. Science tells us that in order to stay below a 2C degree rise in global temps (a benchmark for some of the most catastrophic climatic consequences) that worldwide emissions must be cut fast, and significantly – 25-40% by 2020, and 80% by 2050. Numerical targets aren’t on the board here, and weren’t included in the Bali action plan, but the parameters of equally vital components are, in the form of technology transfer, adaptation finance, avoided deforestation, and the rights of indigenous people/s.

This is also day 12 of the conference. No more swapping of business cards. Once crowded cafes aren’t, and hotel and convention staff, unfamiliar with the drop-off in the human pace of the conference, start asking if everything is over. People begin to sort receipts and check in on-line for their flights home. And ponder how they ended up with three or four different currencies in their wallets and purses. (Read home currencies and potentially several connecting flights through different countries.)

The second Friday of a COP (short-hand for the annual winter two-week conference) is a study in fatigue, frenzy, and concern, as to the outcome. Lots of roller bags signal impending departures, and informational booths promoting solar energy, or carbon markets are all abandoned. The side events are over and the media room is packed, where many journalists haven’t been, over the course of the last two weeks, since they have been in press conference rooms and plenary halls, tracking specific issues, and even venturing out into the cold Poland winter to do field reporting. People in full business suits asleep in random chairs and on the floor are a common sight.

Much of what remains to be done is to analyze the final language and provide analysis and commentary to the assembled media. Did Europe backslide on their pledged reductions, did developed nations provide enough incentives to developing nations, in the form of technology transfer assistance and adaptation finance, for them to move toward accepting emissions reductions. Has the global financial slowdown imperiled progress? And how much did the continued absence of real-time U.S. leadership hamstring advancement?

This is my third COP in the span of two calendar years, and these are the on the ground realities of each meeting I have been at, from Nairobi to Bali to Poznan. Same landscape, just a different continent. Last year’s meeting in Bali was hailed as a breakthrough session, since parties to the Climate Convention agreed to enter into formal negotiations toward a successor agreement to 1997’s Kyoto Protocol. Basically, two-weeks of high-stakes talks yielded an agreement to talk yet some more. This is how progress can be viewed to an outsider of these very complex and nuanced proceedings.

But if Poznan produces a decent agenda of action items to be decided upon in Copenhagen, then this gathering will also be viewed as very constructive.
Of course, so much of the critical work and difficult decisions are still being left to next year’s meeting. It remains to be seen if the upcoming Obama administration can bridge the leadership and trust gap that has existed, and widened, over the past seven plus years.
Only time will tell. And science tells us that we are running out of it.