Polish Coal, Yvo de Boer’s Need for a Vacation, and Why Poznan is Like an Ant Colony

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

The annual United Nations-led climate change negotiations are quickly coming to a close here in coal-rich southern Poland. In fact, Poland produces more than 90% of its electricity from coal, suggesting a challenging transition towards cleaner burning fuels in its near term future, if these talks do in fact lead to a successor agreement to 1997’s Kyoto Protocol.

Stepping back, the annual gathering is a two-week marathon of behind the scenes bargaining between official delegates, daily press briefings from the UN secretariat, the UNFCCC, and its erstwhile head – Yvo de Boer. Talk about someone in need of a vacation. Imagine the stress and strain of herding more than 180 countries toward a decision and commitment the likes of which mankind has never before made on a collective basis. And all of this through innumerable language barriers, and a looming deadline, next December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

There are also a phalanx of “side events,” at which non-profits, industry, trade and labor groups get to make their case about everything from how bioenergy is both a source of clean energy and a poverty alleviator, to what the US election results portend for the negotiations, to how labor standards will be treated under an agreement.

Mixed together with the media covering the event (possibly the next industry in need of a bailout), security, and volunteers, it’s a bit like an ant colony, but one that isn’t building anything – just moving to and fro with ideas, positions, opinions and perhaps the latest piece of intel about who is imperiling consensus on adaptation finance.

The process is mind-numbingly complex to even the most seasoned COP-follower.

After all, in Bali last year, hailed as a landmark point of progress, the target of a range of hope for emissions reductions (driven by IPCC research) ended up buried in a footnote of the Action Plan.

While the delegates would prefer that Barack Obama were here, they will later today hear from former Vice President and reigning Climate Champ Al Gore.