And they’re off!

December 2nd, 2008

And they’re off! The 2008 UN climate talks started yesterday in Poznan, Poland. We have now embarked on a fortnight of discussions towards a post-Kyoto deal . The question is: what sort of deal will be?

These talks are the springboard for the final year of discussions. We need to reach agreement on a final work plan for 2009 so that the run up to Copenhagen can be spent hammering out the intricacies, not the master plan. Poznan is, therefore, more about aiding than clinching final deals but, nevertheless, weak agreements here will weaken our post-2012 deal.

It should not be underestimated what the consequences of an inadequate deal next year will mean for the world, and in particular those who are already struggling with climate change – the vulnerable communities in countries ill-equipped to deal with the impacts. For these people a deal should have been made years ago, 2008-9 really is the last deadline.

Today, and during the preparations prior to the conference, it has been encouraging to see that developing countries are increasingly finding a voice in the debates and are organising collectively to enhance their position. Much of this new assertiveness has been driven by NGOs working within these countries – our team in Poznan is blessed with Gehendra Gurung from Practical Action Nepal who has been awarded a place on his government’s delegation. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to hear the distance from the conference that many Southern participants are having to stay due to the expense of hotels anywhere near Poznan. Couple this with the fact that there is no Polish embassy in the whole of Africa, and you risk having the makings of a COP totally dominated by rich, Northern countries.

These points do not bode well for the host nation to whom all eyes are peeled. To their credit, the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, made a stirring opening speech calling for a collective will to tackle climate change and stating that the global economic crisis is not an excuse to hold back. However, it doesn’t take an expert to see the contradictions in Tusk’s address and, for their efforts in blocking the EU Climate and Energy Package whilst also trying to weaken mitigation commitments, Poland received the Fossil of the Day Award on the opening day.

But this is just the first day of talks and there will be many twists and turns over the next thirteen days. What matters is that by December 13th we will have a good idea what will be the core components of the post-Kyoto deal. Developing countries need to be right at the top of this agenda. They have overcome major obstacles to be here and they have done so for a reason – they are experiencing climate change now. The Poznan conference needs to recognise this as those involved set us on a course for a climate deal at Copenhagen.

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