POZNAN, December 1 – Representatives from almost every country on the planet are set to start 12 days of tough talks in Poland on Monday aimed at getting the ball rolling for a new global climate change pact.,
The forum of the 192-member UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poznan, Poland comes halfway along a two-year process launched by the international community in Bali a year ago.
The aim is to forge a new global treaty in Copenhagen in December 2009 that will be the most ambitious and complex environmental deal ever seen.
The stakes are high, with scientists warning that failure to take action on a worldwide basis will inflict irreparable damage to the planet’s climate system.
It means humans have to find ways of producing power, feeding and equipping themselves and travelling that produce fewer greenhouse emissions.
These gases act like a blanket in atmosphere to make the Earth habitable, but in excess they will heat up the planet’s surface too much, wreaking changes to the climate system that could be cataclysmic for many millions of people.
"I honestly think that what happens between Poznan and Copenhagen on climate change will affect the world that we leave behind us more than anything that we do," Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC executive secretary, said on the eve of the talks.
But agreeing is a Herculean task.
Rich countries hold most of the world’s wealth and consume most of its resources, but are pushing for concessions from China and India, which are becoming major polluters in their own right.
Developing countries, meanwhile, want the West to help pay for them to grow their economies in a sustainable manner and stump up cash to shore up the defences of poor countries most vulnerable to climate change.
Delegates in Poland will be examining an 82-page document containing a range of differing and complex proposals for long-term cooperative action.
By the end of the talks on December 12, it is hoped that this will have been condensed into a workable blueprint for negotiations culminating in a deal in Copenhagen.
One spur for optimism is that the United States, one of the world’s biggest polluter per capita, will next month have a new leader, one whose "yes we can" mentality can work for international climate negotiations, it is hoped.
George W. Bush mauled the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Treaty on binding emissions cuts for rich countries when he abandoned it in 2001, but under Barack Obama, his policies would be scrapped.
Obama has set a goal of reducing US emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050, using a cap-and-trade system and a 10-year programme worth 150 billion dollars in renewable energy.
De Boer said on the eve of the talks that although Obama would not be present in Poznan, his "eyes and ears" will be. A congressional delegation will include Senator John Kerry, chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
But Obama is also taking office in the teeth of what many fear will turn out to be the worst recession for generations, and the efforts needed to tackle this will take up much of his energy, not to mention large amounts of cash.
This is a problem shared by other leaders too, not least in the 27-nation European Union where increased strains on finances risk pushing climate change way down the agenda.
Just when the Poznan talks reach a climax, EU leaders will meet in Brussels to try to resolve objections by Poland and Italy about the cost of reaching the bloc’s climate targets.