What did Poznan mean for progress on climate change?

December 19, 2008 2 By admin

I didn’t attend last week’s climate summit, but I’ve talked to a few Oxfam staff who did, and got to thinking about how the talks compare with other negotiations, especially on trade. (For a more specific debrief on the Poznan outcome see here).

It feels like Poznan represented a shift in dynamics, from aid to trade, or from New Testament to Old. Let me explain. In terms of political economy, the key difference between international negotiations on aid and those on trade is that trade talks are fundamentally a domestic issue – changing trade rules creates winners and losers within rich countries, who lobby hard for their interests. Politicians ignore them at their peril. In contrast, aid is primarily a broadly dispersed taxpayer issue, and quite a small one at that, so that negotiators do not come under the same degree of scrutiny and pressure.

And the biblical reference? Personal shorthand – aid is about ‘love they neighbour’, trade negotiations are more like ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’. Up until Poznan, the EU in particular appeared ready to behave in a somewhat disinterested, New Testament fashion. Both member states and the Commission seemed to be listening to the evidence, agreeing the aggressive ’20-20-20’ plan in January 2008 – a comprehensive climate and renewable energy package designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020, increase to 20 percent by 2020 the renewable energy share of the energy mix, and improve energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020. That, and the EU’s avowed readiness to channel significant funds to poor countries for adaptation, looked like the ingredients of a grand bargain on climate change.

That was then; this is now. Poznan saw a gathering backlash within the EU, which dragged its feet on helping poor countries to adapt (only a concerted barrage from developing countries and NGOs forced them to back down and allow developing country governments direct access to UN adaptation funds, rather than being forced to go through intermediaries like the World Bank), but then they blocked efforts to raise the amount of adaptation funds available, which currently fall pitifully short of what’s needed. Goodwill and trust took a battering, and it feels like the climate change talks have entered their hardball phase.

Why the shift? I find it helpful when thinking about these processes to look at the ‘three I’s’: Ideas, Interests and Institutions. In the case of the channel for adaptation finance, it looks more like a problem of ideas and institutions – EU officials basically don’t trust developing country governments to manage their own affairs. They eventually reversed their position on that, but on the volume of funding, interests also kicked in. With billions dependent on the outcome, an increasingly well-organized and experienced corporate lobby also ensured that back in Brussels, the EU watered down the 20/20/20 deal right in the middle of Poznan. Less money will be raised because polluting European industries successfully lobbied for many emissions permits to be handed out free rather than auctioned, and the reduced income that accrues will no longer be earmarked for adaptation. Public backtracking on that scale in front of the rest of the world unsurprisingly further soured the mood in Poznan.

The countervailing forces needed both within the EU and beyond will have to involve progressive industrial lobbies (eg the renewables sector), mass mobilization by civil society organizations and a much greater degree of courage and political leadership than was on offer in Poznan, including from developing countries. Where is the climate change Mandela? Will Obama pick up the baton so publicly dropped by Europe in Poznan? The road to the Copenhagen COP in December 2009, supposedly the culmination of the climate change talks, is looking a good deal steeper after Poznan.