Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Saturday, 13 December 2008

Climate talks hit stumbling block

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Poznan

Protesters from youth organisations demonstrate in Poznan, Poland
The EU package was not as strong as developing countries would have liked

"Two cities, 189 countries, one dream."

It could be the tagline for some talent contest - and I suppose that in some ways, it is.

After a hectic simultaneous two-day spell of climate talks in Brussels and Poznan, the issue is whether the talent in question is for finding a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions, or for finding a way to pretend convincingly that you are doing so.

Certainly, politicians at the European Council's talks in Brussels on the EU energy and climate package, and delegates to the annual UN climate conference in Poznan, were taking a pretty close look at what each other was up to.

By adopting a strong package of measures to reduce its own emissions, the EU could signal to everyone in Poznan that difficult and perhaps expensive decisions could be taken in a time of financial strife.

Meanwhile, in the other direction flowed global messages to the EU leadership.

A particularly important message concerned what developing countries were looking for in the EU package; if they were not inspired by what they saw, the chances of them engaging positively with the Poznan process would markedly diminish.

Falling short

So what has it all meant, those two intensive days, now that the dignitaries have flown away and the plates have been cleared and the convention centre cloakroom staff have been allowed to go home?

UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer (L), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (C) and Polish President Lech Kaczynski
Documents agreed in Poznan fell short of pledging the cuts the IPCC suggests
The EU package, certainly, did not emerge as strong as developing countries would have liked; though it is too early to tell whether they will concentrate on the headline figure of a 20% reduction in emissions, or whether they take into account the concessions made to industry that were necessary in order to reach consensus.

Even if they look only at the headline number, there must be some doubt as to whether they consider 20% to fall under the definition of "leadership".

The context is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has suggested that on the basis of the science, developed nations ought to be looking for cuts of 25-40% by 2020 - and the EU pledge is below that.

If there is a global deal, the EU will up its pledge to 30%. But it hasn't been planning for that; the measures agreed in Brussels only deal with 20%.

This was clearly a matter of some sensitivity.

In Poznan, EU chiefs gave a news conference at lunchtime on Friday and another in the evening.

At the first, after they had talked a lot about 20%, I asked them why the 30% figure had disappeared from the dialogue and why they were not planning how to reach it.

In the evening session, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas and French ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet talked a lot about 30%.

They recognise, I am sure, that that is in the range of what developing countries are looking for; 20% is not.

So the carrot is there for the developing world; make a deal, and we will lop an extra 10% off our emissions - that's the idea.

Equitable lives

If the EU in Poznan was asking people to listen to its message from Brussels - and it was - there is less evidence that Brussels was listening to Poznan.

Developing countries, especially those with long, low coastlines or where freshwater is already scalded from the landscape by extreme heat, are looking for much more than a pledge of emissions cuts.

Work plans agreed for both "tracks"
Discussions enter "full negotiating mode"
Management of UN Adaptation Fund agreed
Funds can now be disbursed
Programme agreed to improve roll-out of low-carbon technologies
Parameters established of agreement on reducing deforestation
"Recognition" that science indicates need for emissions to peak and begin to decline within 10-15 years

They also want money and technology - to help them develop along sustainable lines, and especially to help them prepare for the potential impact of climate change.

They consider it their right, on the basis that the West has caused the problem.

Whatever you think of the intrinsic merit of this argument - and however much you think it is a card played with increasing skill by the talented orators of Asia and South America - the fact is that Western governments have to understand it at a visceral level and deal with it if they are to reach a global agreement, which all parties to the UN convention say they want to achieve when they convene in a year's time in Copenhagen.

Another aspect of the EU decision is what it means for other developed nations.

The US and Japan will both be setting "mid-term" - about 2020 - targets soon; and if the EU selects an option below what IPCC science suggests, why should they go any higher?

And the smaller the collective ambition displayed across the developed world, the less chance there is of developing countries accepting any kind of emission reduction en bloc at Copenhagen, or of settling for small piles of adaptation money.

Euro vision

If you want to pare it down to the basics, there are probably three questions to ask about the last two days: will carbon emissions be curbed, will countries vulnerable to potential impacts of climate change be any better protected, and have the chances of reaching a deal in Copenhagen deal increased or decreased?

Man in polar bear costume hitching to Copenhagen
After Poznan, eyes are turning to Copenhagen
I'll award a maximum of one point for each question in each city.

The Brussels agreement gains half a point on the first question, but there are no points from Poznan, where the documents agreed fell short of pledging the kind of cuts that the IPCC says are necessary - though they might come next year.

The second question gains a quarter point from each; some revenue for climate adaptation will be accrued by auctioning pollution permits in the EU, and the Poznan deal will allow money in the UN Adaptation Fund to be disbursed.

The third… well, it depends on your point of view.

While the New York Times concludes that the world is now "on the track to a new global climate treaty with a renewed sense of purpose and momentum", Xinhua reports that "hopes are fading for a comprehensive deal to fight climate change in Copenhagen next year".

Different sources, different perspectives, different analyses.

So one point for that, perhaps - making two out of six in total.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that as Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo warned on Thursday, something - could it be the financial crisis? - is taking leaders' eyes off climate change.

At the same Brussels meeting, EU leaders unveiled a package worth 200bn euros (£180bn) to ease the financial crisis.

At the Poznan meeting, developed nations, with the EU to the fore, blocked proposals that could have unleashed billions of euros to help some of the world's poorest countries launch climate adaptation projects.

Two cities? Sure. One vision? Hmm…

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