On 1 December, almost 200 representatives from around the world gathered in Poznan, Poland, for a two-week meeting on tackling climate change. The UN talks among environment ministers marks the midway point of negotiations on a new framework to replace the Kyoto treaty, whose main provisions expire in 2012. UN officials say a new treaty must be signed by the end of next year to give countries time to ratify it.

BACKGROUND

During the Bali negotiations last year, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to embark on two years of negotiations in order to produce and finalise a new global agreement ahead of a final meeting next year in Copenhagen.

A draft report was published by the United Nations on 20 November which assembles proposals on what a new treaty should feature, presented by countries and observer organisations since the talks in Bali. In the report, the European Union and other nations proposed limiting global average increases to 2 degrees Celsius through measures such as emissions trading and technology transfer.

Brazil, New Zealand and the EU proposed binding emissions targets for rich nations 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, a stance also adopted by the Climate Action Network and the International Trade Union Confederation.

In contrast, the US said that any long-term global goal should be 'aspirational' instead of binding. Russia agreed, adding a pact should not be punitive or enforceable but feature adjustable commitment and offer 'effective incentives' to participants to meet them. It should be noted, however, that following US President-elect Barack Obama's assurance that the US would 'engage vigorously' in climate change talks when he is in office next year, country negotiating positions may change.

PROGRESS

At the opening day of the conference, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, emphasised the crucial role of finance in reaching a long-term solution to climate change. He said advancing the commitment of industrialised countries is intimately linked to enhancing the engagement of developing countries. His expectations for the conference included the launch of the Adaption Fund, as well as significant advances on technology transfer, the CDM and the issue of deforestation.

Mr. de Boer highlighted two important signals received in 2007: The IPCC report, confirming the reality and impacts of climate change; and the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which said failure to act would equal economic failure on the scale of two World Wars and the Great Depression combined. 

At the press briefing on the first day of the second conference week, Yvo de Boer gave an update on a number of issues under discussion. He said that, in general, negotiations are going well and that countries are trying to identify new avenues instead of re-stating traditional positions. 

On adaption, countries have been sharing 'success stories' in dealing with impacts of climate change, but were also identifying barriers in this area. Mr. de Boer also highlighted the importance of risk and disaster management and insurance for the Copenhagen agreement. He said that this area is a fundamental requirement to meet adaptation objectives and that Alliance of Small Island States is proposing an insurance mechanism to address loss and damage from climate change impacts.