Even in Absentia, Obama Attracts Attention at Global Climate Talks in Poland

  • Published on December 1st, 2008

barack obama in berlinSome 9,000 delegates, activists and researchers assembled in Poznan, Poland on Monday, for the opening of the fourteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP14). The meeting is the fourth of its kind this year. And even though the U.S. delegation will be comprised of the outgoing Bush team, the pending change in American leadership is palpable in Poznan as global climate conferees see the potential of president-elect Barack Obama ushering in a new era of U.S. leadership on the environment.

[social_buttons]The Poznan conference is the halfway mark in a two-year negotiation to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which ‘required’ 37 industrial countries to slash carbon emissions below 1990 levels by an average 5 percent by 2012. Delegates have set a deadline of December 2009 to enact a new agreement to reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases.

Although no members of Obama’s transition team will be at the UN talks, Obama sent along Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to Poznan, as an observer for the December 1-12 conference.

“It’s a very exciting time. It’s a moment we have been waiting for, many of us, for some period of time; we intend to pick up the baton and really run with it,” Democratic Senator John Kerry told reporters, as he prepared to head to Poland.

Obama has been “very, very clear that after eight years of obstruction and delay and denial, the US is going to rejoin the world community in tackling this global challenge,” Sen. Kerry added.

President-elect Obama’s plan of cutting back on CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with a further 80 percent by 2050 has impressed those involved in the UNFCC process, especially as compared to the position of outgoing President George W. Bush, who gave little serious attention to the matter diplomatically.

“It’s ambitious,” Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official said of the target.

De Boer praised Obama for saying that he would seek to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases back to 1990 levels by 2020 as part of global action to avert more heatwaves, floods, droughts, more powerful storms and rising seas.

Despite the optimistic tone, do not expect any binding agreements to come out of the talks. The way this process is set up, delegates need to work through the 86-page proposal, containing the “blueprints” for future plans of tackling climate change, such as new, energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy. Fleshing out the proposals and agreeing on language is not something that will come without considerable efforts.

The U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky will likely take a relatively low profile. Other notable members of the team include Harlan L. Watson, the State Department’s special envoy to the UN on climate change and Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality James L. Connaughton, who will join in representing the United States at the high-level portion of the conference on December 11-12.

Many observers remain cautious. “We’ve heard good rhetoric in the past,” during the Clinton-Gore administration, says Jennifer Morgan, climate-change program director for E3G, an environmental think tank and advocacy group in London. “But they didn’t do much.”

If you plan on following the talks over the next two weeks, as I do, I suggest you make yourself familiar with the five things to watch in Poznan, and keep an eye out for more coverage of COP14 here at RG&B and all over the Green Options Media network.

Image: JerrySocoa via flickr under a Creative Commons License

About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.

1 comment

  • It is uplifting to see the United States project a more positive tone with regard to dealing with the problem of climate change, and most people are very excited, but as mentioned above, some are still taking a wait and see attitude, as governments have often failed to follow through on their promises.

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