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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » November 19, 2008
UN Climate Change Conference
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Tackling Climate Change
November 19, 2008   
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Janusz Reiter, special envoy of the Polish government on climate, talks to Andrzej Ratajczyk.

The 14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP14), to be attended by several thousand delegates from over 190 countries, will be held in Poznań in the first two weeks of December. How important will this conference be for Poland and the world?
The UN climate change conference in Poznań will be held one year before the Copenhagen conference at which the parties to the convention are to take decisions concerning a new global agreement on climate protection. The Poznań conference is not supposed to produce any breakthrough decisions but to lay the ground for such decisions. This means that if the Poznań conference is a failure one can hardly expect success in Copenhagen. The Poznań conference will not be as spectacular as the conference in Kyoto, where the Kyoto Protocol imposing obligations on countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was adopted, or next year's conference in Copenhagen. But the meeting in Poznań will definitely be very important for the future of the whole climate process.

The Poznań conference will also be of special importance for Poland because it will be the largest political meeting ever held in the country. Additionally, it is probably the first opportunity for Poland to play a leadership role in a process of global significance. So it will be a very important development in the context of building up Poland's political competence and authority in the world.

What topics will participants in the Poznań conference discuss?
The topics are associated with the UN climate change convention and have been divided into four blocks: reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, adaptation to climate change, funding and technology transfer.

The debate on carbon dioxide emissions will be focused on how to reduce these emissions, and how to set new emissions norms for individual countries and groups of countries. It is clear that developed countries will be expected to commit themselves to reducing emissions while developing countries will be obliged to take other, not yet specified, measures.

The second important topic will be the problem of adapting to climate change, a problem which is particularly challenging to countries with weaker economies. The point is that climate has already changed to some extent and this has affected people in many parts of the world. As a result, we need not only to counteract climate change but also adapt to it. This requires making a great effort while not all countries are able to do so.

This problem is associated with the third topic of the conference, which is funding, and questions about who should provide the money, how much and for what purposes, and who should receive the money. These problems are very difficult to solve.

The fourth topic is centered on technologies which can be helpful in adjusting to climate change and which are needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Discussion on climate change is a very important process, one connected with the economic interests and development needs of all the countries involved, that is virtually all the world. The primary objective is to work out a compromise which would be fair to all countries and which would not divide the world into winners and losers. Working out a compromise every country would want to support is a sort of mission impossible, but I believe it is feasible. The Poznań conference is where we will be seeking a global compromise.

But isn't the global financial crisis likely to hinder efforts to counteract climate change?
I am sure that most people involved in the process to counteract climate change believe the crisis is not an obstacle to reaching a compromise on climate protection. They believe the new global climate consensus will be a sort of a new economic consensus. It will incorporate a new modern energy sector, one which will be more stable and less dependent on such changeable factors as oil and gas prices. The new energy sector will be more diversified, which will mean more energy security to all countries.

Of course, the problem is more complex because what counts in politics is not only reality but also how it is perceived. The way in which many countries perceive the current crisis may be seen as an obstacle to making new climate protection commitments.

The stance of the new U.S. administration will be very important in this respect. If the approach of the new administration is open and bold, it will have a positive impact on other countries' positions. There are many signs indicating that the Barack Obama administration will be more open to climate change problems than the George W. Bush administration was.

Isn't it a problem for the organizers that Poland is critical of the European Union's energy and climate plan designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth?
I don't think so. I think that if the energy and climate plan is to be adopted, it has to be fair to all European Union countries, not only some of them. It has to take into consideration different conditions existing in individual countries, including Poland which generates 95 percent of its energy from coal. If the EU adopts a plan taking into account the economic realities of individual countries, it will be an important signal for the world that a bold compromise is possible, a compromise protecting the climate and at the same time addressing economic interests and meeting the development needs of the countries involved.
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