ELIZABETH ROSENTHAL, The New York Times, December 11, 2008
Poznan, Polan — Senator John Kerry arrived at the United Nations climate conference here on Thursday and immediately reassured delegates that the United States would take strong measures to combat climate change.
“President Obama will be like night and day compared to President Bush,” Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said at a news conference, adding, “Congress and the president-elect are committed to movement on mandatory goals as rapidly as possible.”
Although the incoming president has no official representatives here, the conference center is crawling with Congressional representatives and their staff members, a sign of the political transition in the United States.
Over the past two weeks, there have been staff members from more than 50 Congressional offices, representing figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a Republican foreign policy statesman and Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, who will be the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
On Wednesday, transition team officials for Mr. Obama said he would announce his top environment team next week, which so far includes Carol M. Browner, Steven Chu and Lisa P. Jackson.
Despite elation at the new United States presence, there was widespread concern among delegates that developed nations would be less willing to make the financial investments in climate change at a time of global recession. In opening the two-day meeting of environment ministers on Thursday morning, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said there should be “no backsliding on our commitments.”
In a roundtable on Thursday, dozens of environment ministers pledged to hold to previous plans for emissions reductions. Stavros Dimas, environment director general of the European Union said, “We are determined despite economic surprises to deal with climate change.” The European Union has committed to reducing emissions 20% by 2020.
Still, other ministers made it clear that the global recession had made good works harder. “If we can bring our finance ministers back on board, we will be successful in Copenhagen,” where countries hope to arrive at a climate treaty by December 2009, said Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s environment minister, who reiterated his country’s goal of cutting emissions by 25% to 30% over 1990 levels by 2020.
There were some bright spots at the conference, which is part of a negotiation to create the global climate treaty. Mexico took the lead among developing countries and committed itself to emission reduction targets and caps, even though developing countries are not required to do so under the Kyoto Protocol. Brazil said it would aim to cut deforestation 70% in the next decade.
But Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation, reiterated that as a developing country China should not have to make such numerical commitments, but that it would “take positive and effective mitigation and adaptation measures.” China is the world’s largest emitter.
Also, some developing countries said promises by industrial nations to help them cope with climate change seemed to have been put off. The fate of a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change was unclear on Thursday.
“We are really disappointed with the progress we are seeing in Poznan,” said Amjad Abdulla, director general of the Ministry of Environment in the Maldives, a chain of low-lying islands that is threatened by rising sea levels. “We are drowning, and there is this huge gap in commitment.”