UN talks set stage for climate pact next year
A planet-wide forum on climate change yesterday hammered out a work schedule designed to end in a treaty for expunging the darkening threat to mankind from greenhouse gases.
In the pre-dawn hours, the 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poland set down a programme of work that, it declared, would conclude with a historic pact in Copenhagen next December.
Taking effect after 2012, the deal will set down unprecedented measures for curbing emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases and helping poor countries in the firing line of climate change.
"Poznan is the place where the partnership between the developing and developed world to fight climate change has shifted beyond rhetoric and turned into real action," declared Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki, who chaired the marathon.
UNFCCC members will submit proposals for the treaty's text in the early months of 2009.
By June, these will then be condensed from what is likely to be a massive document into a blueprint for negotiations.
"Last year was the year of exchanging ideas and developing a good atmosphere in the process and asking each other questions," said UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer at a press conference.
“Now we are moving into a negotiating mode and it's going to be a very heavy agenda. But as in any marathon, you need to do some really fast running at the end, not at the beginning."
The agreement sets the stage for a year-long process revolving around two big issues: who should make the biggest sacrifices on curbing greenhouse gases, and how to beef up support for poor countries exposed to climate change.
The 12-day meeting ended with a two-day ministerial-level gathering that, despite flourishes of rhetoric, failed to make any big advance on these core problems.
It opened the way to launching a so-called Adaptation Fund for helping poor countries that are most exposed to rising sea levels, drought and floods.
But, to the bitter disappointment of Brazil, India and other emerging countries, it yielded no accord on how to boost the fund's income to the scale of billions of dollars per year -- a level that many experts say will be needed, just a few decades from now.
The arduous process was boosted by the adoption at a European Union (EU) summit in Brussels on Friday of a deal to slash EU emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Delegates in Poznan had held their breath, fearful that backsliding by the EU would fatally sap momentum in the UN track.
The final day of the Poznan talks was powerfully spurred by green guru Al Gore, 2007 co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and by US Senator John Kerry, acting as pointman for president-elect Barack Obama, who has vowed to root out the heart of George W. Bush's policies on climate change.
Gore said momentum was at last building -- in the United States, Europe, China, Brazil and elsewhere -- towards a treaty in Copenhagen that could roll back the threat.
The EU's so-called "20-20-20" deal seeks to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, make 20 percent energy savings and bring renewable energy sources up to 20 percent of total energy use.
It is the most ambitious scheme of any major economy for dealing with climate change and energy use.
It throws down the gauntlet to the United States, Japan and other rich countries to follow suit in next year's negotiations.
Green groups blasted the outcome at Poznan.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) describing it as a "major missed opportunity" to thrash out concessions on slashing greenhouse-gas emissions.
"This was a moment in time when real leaders would have stepped up and taken the positions that would combat the economic and climate crisis at the same time," WWF said.
Scientists point the finger for climate change at human influence, especially the burning of fossil fuels in power stations, factories and by cars, as well as through deforestation and agriculture.
Gigatonnes of greenhouse gases spew each year into the Earth's atmosphere, acting like an invisible blanket that stores solar heat and changes the climate system.