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The Warsaw Voice » Business » November 18, 2009
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Fighting Global Warming
November 18, 2009   
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Prof. Maciej Nowicki, Poland's minister of the environment, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.

In 2009, you were president of the United Nations' 14th Climate Change Conference (COP 14). What are the achievements from this period in terms of building a global agreement on combating climate change?
The Polish presidency of COP 14 began with the climate summit in Poznań in December 2008, at which we managed to agree on many issues including those linked to the Adaptation Fund and technology transfer. This is hugely important, particularly for poor countries. As a result of a decision made in Poznań, money from the Adaptation Fund will be more readily available to developing countries in a direct way, bypassing previous barriers that hindered work on projects. Furthermore, many technical matters were resolved there, such as the method of calculating carbon dioxide absorption by forests, which is essential for studying the effects of deforestation.

By definition the conference in Poznań was only a stage on the way to this year's conference in Copenhagen, at which major political decisions of global importance are expected to be made.

What other initiatives involving the campaign against climate change were undertaken during the Polish presidency?
One of the most important initiatives was the organization of an informal meeting of ministers at the U.N. headquarters in New York in May. At my invitation, ministers and undersecretaries of state representing ministries of agriculture, the environment, forestry, land management and development from 40 countries on all the continents gathered at this meeting. The topic was adapting to climate change in the context of food security, land degradation and the effects of deforestation. This initiative is important not only because of the topics covered, but also because it brought together the heads of different ministries. It is extremely important to include decision makers from different areas of the economy in the joint effort to solve climate-related and environmental problems.

A less spectacular though very important aspect of my COP 14 presidency was my work as head of the office of the Conference of the Parties (COP), a body that includes representatives from regional groups. The office is the top executive body of the Conference between the sessions. In addition, as president of COP 14 and also as Poland's environment minister, I had a substantial influence on the decisions of European Union institutions on issues related to the fight against global warming. One example is the EU's stance on the possibility of using surplus carbon dioxide emission units after 2012, which is very advantageous for Poland.

As minister of the environment, you are obviously a politician, but you haven't stopped being a scientist. This must be a tough combination, since a scientist is interested in truth and a politician is interested in possibilities. Is there more science, politics or business in the ongoing efforts to protect the climate from warming?
Of course, politicians should base their actions on facts. If they don't, then that's demagogy. Now we come to the question of whether scientists are certain that it is humans who are causing the changes in the Earth's climate. As a scientist I can say yes, with a clear conscience. Every year people on different continents cut down forests of acreage equal to half of Poland's area. This reduces carbon dioxide absorption because, alongside the oceans, forests have the greatest contribution to absorbing and storing this gas. On the other hand, we use carbon that lay underground for hundreds of millions of years as coal; we mine it and burn it up in huge amounts over a few dozen years, and then discard it into the atmosphere. No wonder the concentration of carbon dioxide is growing, and the consequences of this are very serious.

For example, in Poland this could cause periods of drought, more frequent floods, and also a raised sea level in the course of several dozen years. This will certainly be a problem for Poland, though it won't be the same kind of tragedy that global warming could pose for developing countries. Paradoxically, it is these countries, which aren't responsible for carbon dioxide emissions, that will suffer the most. The growing water shortage will lead to starvation, and consequently to huge migrations of people and in extreme cases it may even lead to armed conflicts. We will have to face such problems, counteracting the emergence of dangerous tensions. And that's a question of politics-politics not just from the viewpoint of the interests of individual regions, countries, continents, but the whole world.

The fundamental problem in solving global environmental problems is a shortage of funds to finance all the necessary investment projects. Do you think the public's awareness has increased in recent years, especially in wealthy countries, that it is necessary to share the costs of combating global warming?
There has been a significant improvement in this area. Rich countries realize that it is in their interest to be active in organizing funding for this purpose. But it's not only a question of budget funding; it's also about finding other financing mechanisms. I support the simplest solutions, such as a surcharge of $1 on the price of oil per barrel. Calculations show that such a surcharge would raise the price of one liter of gasoline by 0.3 eurocents. Drivers wouldn't even feel it, but it would yield about 20 billion euros per year that could be earmarked in the first place for supporting the development of the poorest countries. Another idea involves a surcharge of $1-$2 on airline tickets, which would yield additional funds-anywhere from several to 10-plus billion euros. Other small fees could also be introduced, for instance on securities transactions. Funds obtained in this way could be spent on ensuring access to clean energy and clean water, and on forest protection in the developing countries. Estimates show that if Africa received $15 billion annually, within 20 years it would become the first continent to use 100-percent renewable energy.

On the other hand, developed countries which are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emissions, have to strive to reduce these emissions by themselves, by introducing advanced technology. Poland could play a major role in this, by developing research on clean coal technology. The development of solar technologies is another opportunity for Poland.

What are your expectations for the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen?
According to the guidelines adopted last year in Poznań, the Copenhagen conference was expected to see the signing of a global agreement on climate protection until 2050. This is a huge and ambitious challenge. Today I think it will be a success if international leaders reach a political agreement during the conference on the principles of what such a global agreement should look like. This would be an important declaration, though not one that would be legally binding. Specific provisions, for example those regarding financial mechanisms, would be worked out by negotiators after the conference.

FACTFILE: COP 14, the United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in December 2008 in the western Polish city of Poznań, was the largest forum for global political negotiations on climate change last year. The conference was organized by the Ministry of Environment and for the period of the conference, Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki became the President of COP 14, a post he will hold until the next conference in Copenhagen in December this year. In his role as president, Nowicki chairs the Bureau of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the most senior executive body, and supports the global climate change agreement on international and national forums.
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