- Adam Morton, Poland
- The Age, December 14, 2008
A CALL to arms by former US vice-president Al Gore and a contentious European deal to cut its greenhouse emissions overshadowed an anti-climactic finale to UN climate talks in Poland.
The talks were damned for making only tentative steps towards a new global treaty.
Promised as a stepping stone towards a post-Kyoto climate deal to be signed in Copenhagen next year, the UN talks edged towards a conclusion yesterday amid accusations that developed nations, including Australia, had blocked progress on greenhouse targets.
As expected, there was no deal on how to share the responsibility of cutting emissions, with rich countries acknowledging that scientists recommended cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent, but not accepting the range as binding.
But the green light was given on a number of technical projects, including a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change, further work on a joint plan between wealthy and poor countries to cut emissions from deforestation, and a legal framework for a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Despite the pessimistic mood at the talks, there was a rousing appearance by Mr Gore, who was not officially representing Barack Obama but acted as an unofficial envoy in meetings with ministers and officials, including Climate Change Minister Penny Wong.
Mr Gore called on the world's leaders to grasp the severity of the threat by holding several meetings during 2009 to ensure a new treaty by the December deadline.
He said President-elect Obama had assured him that combating the "greatest challenge humankind has ever faced" would be a top priority of the new US administration.
Mr Gore acknowledged that negotiations were "painfully slow" but said there were positive signs, including pledges by Western nations to invest in green jobs, and China investing $US600 million ($A912 million) in green projects over the next two years.
"In spite of the remaining obstacles and difficulties, I believe that the causes for hope and optimism are greater than the causes for doubt and discouragement and I believe the road to Copenhagen is now clear," he said.
But he warned that countries needed to make much deeper cuts than currently being considered to avoid dangerous climate change.
The European Union came under heavy criticism from environmentalists for watering down its ambitious climate and energy plan by accepting concessions demanded by Italy, Germany, Poland and Hungary to help their largest polluting industries cope with the financial crisis.
Known as the 20-20-20 deal, it aims to cut emissions by 20 per cent, make 20 per cent energy savings and draw 20 per cent of energy from clean sources by 2020.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it remained a historic, world-leading package. But environmentalists said concessions meant that about two-thirds of the cuts could now be offset by paying for cheaper projects offshore.
In Australia, the Federal Government will tomorrow release its emissions trading white paper, widely expected to set a target to reduce emissions by about 10 per cent by 2020. The paper is also expected to include a 25 per cent target, but that would depend on whether other big polluters took co-ordinated action with Australia.
Senator Wong, who left the climate talks early to fly to Canberra for the release of the white paper, told The Sunday Age the Poznan summit had been a step forward. "There have been encouraging signs of momentum," she said.
But Greenpeace International's climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore said the conference had done little to set up a framework for hectic negotiations through 2009 to meet the deadline for a new deal.
With JOSH GORDON, AGENCIES