Nations Go Head-to-Head at Climate Conference in Poznan

This piece was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers.


Representatives from 190 countries are meeting in Poznan, Poland from Dec. 1-12 to work on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the global warming treaty ratified by 180 nations since 1998 that the United States has refused to ratify.  The Poznan summit, the "14th conference of parties to the climate convention," is the last full meeting before next December's conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where negotiations are set to conclude.

The stakes could not be higher. Venice is under water, with climate change being "the main culprit." Global warming is creating refugees from Bangladesh to Brazil, and is expected to "become the main driver of refugee movements," creating at least 250 million climate refugees by 2050. In the United States, global warming is increasing drought along the Colorado River, stoking wildfires in California, and worsening floods in the Midwest. This is last conference at which the United States will be represented by the do-nothing Bush administration. "After eight years of obstruction and delay and denial," Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who is attending the conference on behalf of President-elect Obama, promised that "the United States is going to rejoin the world community in tackling this global challenge."

CLIMATE RESCUE: A group of 43 small island states, at imminent risk of disappearing below rising seas, are calling for a stronger response to the climate crisis. "We are not prepared to sign a suicide agreement that causes small island states to disappear," Selwin Hart of Barbados, a coordinator of the alliance of small island states, told Reuters. Developing nations like the island states are the hardest hit by the climate crisis, and the least to blame. On Tuesday, the least developed countries "said global warming should be limited to a maximum of 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times," by requiring concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, now at 387 parts per million, to be reduced to 350 ppm. Over 500 young people from fifty different countries are attending the Poznan conference as the International Youth Delegation, representing another constituency not responsible for the crisis but destined to bear the consequences. They too are calling for a "climate rescue plan" with the 350 ppm target, in order "to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted" and avoid "irreversible catastrophic effects."

EUROPEAN UPHEAVAL: Among industrialized nations, the European Union has been leading the way. In order to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial times, it is "committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and is ready to scale up this reduction" if the United States and other developed nations make similar efforts. It has taken action to strongly reduce automotive emissions and has had a successful cap-and-trade system for power plants and other major pollution sources in place since 2005. But Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government in Italy, joined by ex-communist nations of Eastern Europe, are fracturing the coalition by arguing that the global recession prevents action on the climate crisis. On Wednesday, "Italy blocked a deal on renewable energy development" and "is also threatening a veto" of the EU plan to phase out subsidies for industrial polluters.  The global activist organization Avaaz warns, "Crucial European leadership on climate change is in jeopardy - putting the current global negotiations to avert the climate crisis at serious risk." Avaaz has a petition calling for "an immediate outcry targeting three critical countries: Italy, Germany, and Poland," to challenge Europe to regain a unified position by the close of the conference.

OBAMA'S CHALLENGE: The challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama next year will be immense. Leading conservatives still question the existence of man-made global warming, industries litigate against emissions regulations, and polluters spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to distort public opinion and public policy. Despite these forces of denial, Obama recognizes the severity of the climate crisis. Saying "delay is no longer an option," Obama promised the international community that "the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change." Obama has called for the United States to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a dramatic U-turn from Bush's planet-dooming opposition to mandatory emissions reductions. This comes not a moment too soon, as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.4 percent from 2006 to 2007. As Indian official Dinesh Patnaik told Reuters, "It's not ambitious enough considering the Kyoto Protocol targets, but given the eight-year Bush administration it's progress."  The triple crisis facing the new administration based on "our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels" -- global recession, violent turmoil, and climate change -- also represents opportunity. In the words of Sarah Wartell, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress, "Success for the 44th president means making a convincing case for the green economic revolution."

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