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ESSAY: OPPORTUNITY LOST AT POZNAN

In an article first published in The Canberra Times, JULIE-ANNE RICHARDS, Oxfam Australia’s climate change coordinator, reflects on the opportunity missed by the global community at the climate negotiations in Poznan, Poland…

A chance to take climate action has been missed.

After two weeks spent in frantic negotiations over commas and semi-colons, the climate negotiations at Poznan have taken only the barest shuffle towards Copenhagen, and on some crucial issues – like the targets for developed countries – have actually retreated from Bali. 

“Whether small countries from the Pacific, or highly populated ones like Bangladesh and the teeming nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, all pointed to the fact that they have not contributed to the problem of climate change, but are bearing the brunt through rising sea levels, desertification, worse storms and food and water shortages.”

Our Pacific Island neighbours made passionate pleas that their very survival was threatened by climate change unless the world responds . 

Tiny Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, was fighting for his nation’s life: “It is our belief that Tuvalu as a nation has a right to exist forever. We are not contemplating migration. We are a proud nation with a culture that cannot be relocated somewhere else. We want to survive as a nation and as a people and we will survive. Because it is our fundamental right.” 

Whether small countries from the Pacific, or highly populated ones like Bangladesh and the teeming nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, all pointed to the fact that they have not contributed to the problem of climate change, but are bearing the brunt through rising sea levels, desertification, worse storms and food and water shortages. 

They fear they will not be able to pass on their islands, their homes and their culture to their children and grandchildren. Their calls at Poznan for the world’s governments to take urgent action have been increasing. But were they heard by the rest of the world? 

The climate negotiations in Poznan were the half-way point between the landmark agreement at Bali to begin negotiations for a new and effective global climate deal, and its conclusion in December 2009 in Copenhagen. 

There were expectations that the world’s governments would make strides at Poznan, to put us on track to agreeing a global climate deal to prevent dangerous climate change. Important things had to be agreed at Poznan, including a plan to the level of ambition of the new climate deal. 

The vital emissions reductions that developed countries would take were to be tabled. Commitments were to be made on the finance and technology support that developing countries need in order to follow a low carbon growth path, prevent deforestation and adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. 

With the global financial crisis distracting Government and the US in limbo with the Bush Administration departing the scene, the negotiations lacked political will and momentum. As a result we now have a mammoth task for 2009. 

The clearest example of parties’ entrenched positions is on the target range for emissions reduction by developed countries as a group. 

The refusal of Australia, Canada, Russia and Japan to move from their positions in Bali – acknowledging, but not enacting, the 25 to 40 per cent target range identified by the IPCC as necessary to keep warming to moderate levels – has meant we have lost a crucial year. 

Developed countries, like Australia, have grown wealthy by emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We therefore have a responsibility to reduce our emissions first and fastest, and we have a responsibility to provide financial and technology support to developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions and to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change. 

Increasingly we are seeing leadership from developing countries. Mexico announced a target to reduce emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, and South Africa made a presentation on its climate change plan to reduce its emissions. Developing countries are being proactive, and putting submissions on the table. At home they are putting their climate change plans into practice. This leadership is welcome – but it throws into sharp contrast the lack of leadership from the developed countries – the ones with the historic and economic responsibility to lead. 

Australia can help recover some of the ground lost at Poznan by ensuring its target announcement today is internationally credible. The head of the UNFCCC Secretariat flagged that the world would be watching Australia’s target announcement and what sort of example it might set. 

To be internationally credible it must be in accordance with the science and that requires emission targets in the 25-40 per cent range to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. 

If the target is to reflect Australia’s fair share of the international effort to prevent dangerous climate change it must be 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. 

Poznan did agree a work plan for the coming year that will mean a deal at the next meeting, in a year’s time, could be possible. But it will be essential that countries move past their current short-term, narrowly focused negotiation positions. It is not just the fate of tiny Tuvalu that rests on our leadership, but the future of the world our children will inherit. 

Julie-Anne Richards, Oxfam Australia‘s climate change coordinator, was in Poznan for the UN climate negotiations. This opinion editorial ran in The Canberra Times on 15th December 2008.

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