What went wrong at the Poznan talks?

And what changes do we need to see?

It was in the news. Everybody heard about it – but it resulted in nothing. What happened?

Three things were going on our continent. Primarily the world climate summit was held in Poznan, Poland, secondly the EU summit in Brussels and thirdly the FYEG climate exchange in Berlin (see box). Poland was host to the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 4th Meeting of the Parties (CMP) of those that ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

Since the home country of the “evil twins” has a reputation neither as constructive negotiator nor as especially “green” economy/ society it was interesting to see Maciej Nowicki, a unique figure and Polish Minister of Environment, to preside over the meeting.

His credentials have sunken probably after his praise of the summits outcome. Nevertheless, one has to acknowledge that between Bali 2007 (Bali Roadmap) and Copenhagen 2009 (supposed to adopt an agreement for the Post-2012 time), Poznan 2008 was never meant to be a conference with breath-taking agreements but a solid stone on the way to a planet-saving consensus in Copenhagen.

Unfortunately, nothing was decided with regard to the Bali Roadmap. The official statement Advancing the Bali Action Plan “takes note of…” twice and three times “welcomes” something. Not even a place for COP 16 – where a likely mess after a failed Copenhagen conference has to be cleaned up – is clear now. The Adaptation Fund was “reformed” according to the host, yet it is ridiculously small with just 80mio USD.

Yet, under the new ruling the money is supposed to get faster to where it is needed. Moreover, a Survival Fund is about to become reality (with Sweden already willing to give 200mio USD). However, nothing clear has emerged so far. A Poznan Technology Transfer Strategy was introduced, yet the improvement of technology transfer lies now even more with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which itself is highly criticised by nations from the Global South due to high “Northern” influence.

Despite contrary media-announcement, the COP 14 did not achieve a clear ruling on the case of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). But it showed that this strategy, together with its twin nuclear energy (both cement centralist, undemocratic structure and postpone problems into the future) is still on the table.

While the WWF criticised the non-inclusion of biodiversity issues and the rights of indigenous people in the Forestationpart of the Poznan “outcome” it is questionable if those issues are not worthy to be taken as seriously as to give them an agreement for themselves. The Global Forest Coalition criticised heavily and rightly that the COP “failed to explicitly reject carbon markets as a possible funding option for forest conservation” having the underlying problem of seeing the difference in (biological diverse) forests and (monocultural) tree plantations.

The latter is lethal for a healthy environment as well as for local communities. Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia deserve a special mentioning for inhuman behaviour. Those countries piled Fossil of the Day trophies, given to the nation most blocking an agreement (It has to be added that the EU got one as well!).
On the contrary, countries from the Global South surprised with own Climate Change policies. However, none sufficient enough to safe the planet alone or even convince the EU and US of the South’s sincerity in playing its part in fighting Climate Change.

New US President Barack Obama sent John Kerry (wrongly named “climate-specialist” by some newspapers) to Poznan. In his speech – as the complete conference it was live web-casted – he said that the US would only take part in a new Climate Agreement if nations like China did so as well. This is not the most constructive, but an understandable position.
The ball lies now with the South and it has to be waited until (at least) the G-20 meeting in London this year to see the next steps. Simultaneously, the EU head of states met to undermine all possible progress in Poznan.
Instead of giving backwind to the talks the leadership of the climate-hopeful EU completely collapsed.

It is not sure why the final days of both meetings where congruent – maybe it was strategic thinking which just did not work out. In Brussels, especially Poland and Germany (but not only) showed how not to act when combating Climate Change is anywhere on their agenda. With view on the “Deutsche Sonderweg” and its big dirty cars as well as the holy “polski wegiel” (polish coal) they pushed through lax rules fitting them well. Now, no German shall ever again criticise the harakiri-like Polish negation-tactics!

The heads of the European states agreed on defining “threatened economic sectors” which have to be protected by giving them more free CO2-certificates. They totally forgot how they themselves constantly propagated free markets.
The former French minister Pascal Lamy (now head of the WTO) even drew a direct line from protectionism to the disaster of World War II. “When the boat goes down, everybody thinks of him/herself first” was the guiding principle of the closing 2008 in the EU. Instead of leading, the EU was like lead to the climate talks.

It will be very interesting what the impact will be on the US, which under Obama could find it easier than thought of to assume the top spot in combating climate change. Instead of a hopeful race to the top between the Atlantic partners, we have seen an example of voluntarily giving up a common future for short-term national benefits.

December 2008 was a shame for the EU and every European. The conclusions that have to be drawn from this are twofold. On the political level four groups have to change:

1. The EU has to overcome the imaginary zero-sum-game and start think according to its responsibility. The consensus principle endangers a whole new climate agreement, therefore the ratification of Lisbon (and eventually a new EU-constitution) with clear majorities is crucial for a unified and strong, yet sensible stand of the EU.

2. The US has to overcome internal difference when it comes to combating climate change. International treaties have to go through Congress. Radical conservatives as well as Big Oil opinions have to be shunned out to allow a bipartisan approval of a Green New Deal.

3. The Fossil Group of actors like Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia or Saudi-Arabia will move more into the “bad guy-role” as the US becomes reasonable in 2009. Other industrialized countries as well as activists in those nations (wherever it’s possible) have to get stronger in their demands.

4. Rising economies like the G-5 do right in demanding the inclusion of historic dept into a new agreement. However, those calls will only be heard if they stop imitating western development and take on own targets.A stabilization of emissions by 2020-‘22 would be appropriate.

For us activists, two things have to be kept in mind when approaching Copenhagen:

1. We need to get more radical, somehow. Playing clowns is great for group building and raises some attention. But the blockade of Stansted airport in England (by way fewer people) was more effective in terms of media-attention. After a successful “Bloc-G8” in 2007, why not “Lock-In COP 15”? Nobody gets out (by plane) before a deal reached.

2. We shall not divide into sub-groups along ideological lines. The preparations for Copenhagen are on their way, but too many “old socialists” try to engage general discussions (e.g. “is the Green New Deal not too capitalistic?”). As a critique of Emission Trading myself let me say: We should not discuss endlessly the big things but act big for a good end!

Poznan showed the young generation of climate activists the real face of Climate negotiations. There is hope left that a better road is paved for the COP 15, which lies in the remaining two sub-meetings in Bonn. Let’s make us proud of Europe again!

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