Dispatch From Poznan: The Clock Is Ticking, And The US Is Playing ‘Hide And Seek’

Our guest blogger is Andrew Light, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who is now attending the United Nations climate change talks in Poznań, Poland. This is the third of several on-the-scene dispatches.

In case there was any doubt about the urgency of getting some kind of agreement out of the next UN meeting on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009, the collection of environmental ministers giving opening statements in Poznań Thursday shared the stage with a giant monitor providing a live “Countdown to Copenhagen.”

Yesterday started the highest level of talks for the two-week UN meeting where delegates have gathered in hopes of making some progress toward the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol scheduled to be decided next year. The initial salvo was surprisingly direct for an event usually bound in a straitjacket of diplomatic niceties.

Alik Alik, Vice President of the Federated States of Micronesia, anticipating a loss of some of these states in the near term, proclaimed at the outset that we must not exceed a 1.5 degree C rise in temperature and then, echoing Jim Hansen and Bill McKibben, argued that we should return to 350 parts per million of atmospheric CO2. Georgette Koho, Minister of the Environment for Gabon, said that since Kyoto was hammered out, “little progress of any kind has been made” on climate change. Both repeated the term “tipping point” several times, bringing to bear the dire straits that the developing world already finds itself facing.


But it was Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa, who jumped to the strongest direct condemnation of the role that the developed countries, especially the United States, were playing in the discussions in this meeting so far. Starting with his disappointment that a proposal by the Group of 77 less developed countries and China for financial assistance and technology transfer to take on mandatory cuts was “met with silence,” he went on to accuse developed countries of “playing hide and seek” with midterm targeted cuts in emissions.

Calling out the US by name as the most important holdout from the Kyoto process, he argued that we must accept some “legally binding cuts” in order to make any progress toward encouraging emerging economies like China and India to take on mandatory targeted cuts in emissions as well. Given that China and India taking on some cuts is often cited as the biggest hurdle for the US to join this process, as well as one of the reasons the US Senate advised the Clinton administration not to sign Kyoto in a 95–0 sense of the Senate vote in 1997, one can only hope those who may be representing us in Copenhagen next year are listening.


At Climate Progress, Joe Romm reports on Vice President Al Gore’s address to the conference. Gore says “we cannot negotiate with the facts” and calls for a commitment to stabilization at 350 ppm. Watch it: