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Playing Climate Change Chicken

Kevin Tuerff, CEO, Green Canary Sustainability Consulting, will be reporting for us all week from Poznan, Poland.

It’s too early to dismiss the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change happening right now in Poland as a game of climate change chicken between world powers.

Reuters reported officials from China and India are already refusing to play nicely with the rest of the world unless the U.S. agrees to cut emissions deeper than President-elect Obama’s administration is proposing. Obama has promised to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them another 80 percent by 2050.

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, the current EU president, says he has failed to break a deadlock with Eastern states over an ambitious climate change deal. Some countries including Poland and the Czech Republic oppose deep cuts in CO2 emissions, saying they unfairly penalize their addiction to coal. Meanwhile, the United States will likely stick to its cries of “not fair!” and insist China and India agree to play by the same rules.

Did thousands of people from 190 countries (and me) really have to travel to Pozna? to play the same old game? I would have trouble answering that question if I hadn’t seen for myself how the process worked last year in Bali, Indonesia. Like last year, the first week of the conference has been full of posturing and protesting. This week will surely be action packed with delegations getting serious about formulating the treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It expires in 2012 and Poland is the last step before a new treaty needs to be finalized next year in Copenhagen, Denmark.

While excitement over a new U.S. president is palpable in Poland, President-elect Obama’s promise not to meddle until he takes office has added to the sluggishness of talks during the first week of the conference. “The immediate effect is a stalling of discussions,” said Kim Carstensen of the World Wildlife Fund to the Associated Press. “It’s sort of a black hole. But in the larger picture, we are hopeful.”

Back in the States, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D, TX) says there is reason to hope for progress in Congress. He is planning another go with his answer to the U.S. contribution to releasing heat-trapping gases into the world and says, “The cost of inaction is much greater than the cost of a well-crafted legislative solution. Inaction endangers our health, our wealth and our national security. My Climate MATTERS bill mandates the strongest reductions in greenhouse gases of any legislation introduced, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on Capitol Hill and with the Obama administration to ensure that we seriously address the urgent issue of global warming.”

Doggett’s bill would create a cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse gas pollution. Climate MATTERS would auction allowances and apply the resulting revenue to offset the impacts of climate change, including the creation of a fund to address health care challenges for families and businesses. The auction revenue would also be reinvested in clean energy research and development.

The answer cannot be found solely in Poland or solely in Congress, but I do know Poznan is unbelievably important. It will show the world if the U.S. and other industrial powers are serious about a new treaty or just interested in playing games with unthinkable consequences, of which all of us will be the losers.

Kevin Tuerff, CEO, Green Canary Sustainability Consulting, is reporting for Environmental Leader from
Poznan, Poland. 

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