In The Field

Poznan: A flurry of optimism, tempered by reality

Things are wrapping up in Poznan, but it’s tough to assess the mood. The European Union’s last-minute climate deal was certainly welcome news, but the process by which EU leaders got there – and the concessions they made along the way – have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. A speech by Al Gore, the Nobel-prize winning climate advocate and former vice president of the United States, inspired a standing ovation with a not-so-veiled reference to the new US leadership: “Yes we can!”

Shortly afterward I talked to the delegation from East Timor, whose assessment of the ongoing battle over the launch of the new adaptation fund might be better described as “no we can’t.” But in truth it’s tough to keep track of what’s happening here, as information always seems to be shifting depending on whom you are talking to and when. Shortly after my conversation with the crew from East Timor, I encountered a few others who said “eventually, they will.”

And indeed they did. We received word a short while ago that negotiators produced an agreement on adaptation, which was billed in advance as a showcase issue for the convention. Developed and developing countries had spent the past two weeks talking about access and verification issues as well as ways to provide additional resources, but the fact that they reached a deal so quickly still came as a bit of a surprise.

It appears that developing countries won out on the question of access: The fund will be administered by a board within the United Nations climate convention, allowing poor countries to bypass entities like the World Bank when they seek money. Industrialized nations wanted some kind of mechanisms in place to ensure the money is spent properly, and it’s not yet clear how that debate came out. Nor have negotiators reached a deal on how to secure more money for the fund, which currently contains some $200 million, a paltry sum when you figure that estimates on costs range from tens of billions, or even a trillion, dollars annually.

One of the outstanding issues is whether to include carbon capture and sequestration – burying carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants) in the list of technologies that developed countries can finance in order to offset their emissions in the developing world. There is also talk of various reforms that would make the CDM faster and more reliable, but energy seems to be waning for that debate.

As the talks wind down, the question is what kind of a ribbon delegates can tie around the final documents. Word has it that Poland entered on of the “mini-ministerials” (high-level meetings outside the main plenary) today with a new document titled the “Poznan Solidarity Partnership,” which tried to overlay some kind of grand vision over all of the negotiations (it was rejected). Some have pushed for the inclusion of goals for emissions reductions in developed countries, but that idea has encountered resistance as well.

The final plenary session is supposed to take place this evening – and some think it might even end this evening as well. We’ll see what happens.

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