Poznan, a lovely old city of about half a million people in western Poland, is a odd place to hold a giant UN conference on global warming. For one thing, it’s really cold. (That’s an ice sculpture, in case you were wondering, and it’s in no danger of melting anytime soon.) Much of Poland, meanwhile, was all but destroyed by World War II, then oppressed by the Soviets for most of the rest of the 20th century, before the economy began to boom in the late 1990s. What ideas comes to mind you think of the Poles? No, not sausage. Resilience, courage, the Warsaw uprising, Solidarity, Lech Walesa and all that.
But the earth isn’t especially resilient, I don’t believe, at least it won’t be if global GHG emissions and average temperatures keep rising at their current rates. That’s why what is happening, or actually not happening, in Poznan is something of a worry. The global financial meltdown threatens to slow what momentum exists towards a post-Kyoto treaty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Coal-dependent nations like Poland and Germany are resisting aggressive new climate goals inside the EU, which has been the global leader around climate issues. Everyone’s waiting to see what comes out of the U.S.
The trouble is, the timing of this confab is out of synch with U.S. politics. The American delegation is led by Paula Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs. (We’re scheduled to meet tomorrow.) But, of course, climate policy going forward will be driven by President-elect Obama and his environment/energy team, which is just being put together. Al Gore is on his way here (did you know that the Nobel Goreate has a blog?) after a meeting with the president-elect in Chicago, but he won’t be speaking officially for the new administration. See this story by Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post for more on the transition issue.
Still, it’s exciting to be at my first big UN climate conference. (Wish I had gone last year, when it was in Bali.) I’m told that there are between 9,000 and 11,000 people here from more than 90 countries, all concerned about climate change. Lots of biz people: I just ran into Abyd Karmali, Merrill Lynch’s carbon finance guru, in the hall, and he says business is good. (Credit Suisse, by contrast, just shuttered its carbon trading desk, which was led by a brilliant and personable ex-brain surgeon named Paul Ezekiel.) There’s an enormous exhibit hall of clean technology that I’m going to explore later. I’m speaking tomorrow at a reception sponsored by the Masdar Initiative, which is building a zero-carbon, zero-emissions city in Abu Dhabi and investing in clean tech around the world. All the BINGOs (big NGOs) are here, making noise. And there’s actual hard work going on around such important questions as how to use carbon regulation to preserve forests, how to adapt to climate change (as opposed to mitigate it), what affect climate change will have on global food supplies, etc. So I’ll report back when I can.