Interim Climate Pact Approved

Tough Negotiations to Combat Global Warming Are Postponed

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008; 11:51 PM

POZNAN, Poland, Dec. 13 -- The effort to come up with a global warming treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol inched forward Saturday morning as delegates to United Nations-sponsored talks here agreed on a narrowly framed interim document that leaves all the difficult negotiating until next year.

The modest result leaves the three-year process far short of the goal of concluding a binding agreement by the end of 2009 to curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow the planet's warming, which under current conditions scientists predict will reach dangerous and irreversible levels by the end of the century, if not sooner.

Given the minimal progress made in negotiations this year, several key players said, it will almost certainly take direct involvement by President-elect Barack Obama and other world leaders to produce a meaningful agreement next year.

Much of this meeting's negotiations focused on highly technical details, including how to measure deforestation and how to legally define an international fund aimed at helping poor countries adapt to climate change. But the core questions -- how much industrialized countries will slash their emissions, what they expect in return from major emerging economies, and what they will do to help poorer countries pursue low-carbon development -- remained untouched.

The meeting brought a large crowd to this modest industrial city -- nearly 4,000 delegates and 5,500 observers, activists and journalists -- and produced a work plan that increased the planned number of negotiating sessions next year in an effort to forge a final deal by the time the global talks convene again in Copenhagen in December.

"We do have what we need to move forward and get a deal in Copenhagen, but we just left a lot on the table for us to do in 2009," said Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the climate change program at the World Wildlife Fund-U.S.

Su Wei, one of China's top negotiators, said most decisions made in Poznan "are almost empty" because the industrialized nations had not provided details on how they would transfer technology to developing countries and help them adapt to a changing climate.

But Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's climate and energy minister who will chair next year's meeting, said negotiators had put "the building blocks" in place to reach a broad accord by then. She said some negotiators had become consumed with procedural details and needed to realize they were accountable both to the leaders who appoint them and to the citizens they represent.

"You can't forge such a huge international agreement without the involvement of heads of state," she said. "In the end, this is about political responsibility and political will."

This year's talks were dominated by technicians who balked at helping to fund adaptation projects by auctioning off pollution allowances and who refused to agree that satellite images could adequately track the deforestation that accounts for one-fifth of the globe's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Doug Boucher, who directs the Union of Concerned Scientists' tropical forest and climate initiative, said the failure to make more progress on reducing deforestation "makes our job the next year that much harder."

Most of those hoping to see a new treaty come about placed their faith in Obama, saying they were encouraged by his public pledge to bring U.S. greenhouse gases back to 1990 levels by 2020 and were confident that this shift in American policy would boost the chances of a final deal.

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