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Poznan climate talks: what's the forecast?

  • Story Highlights
  • Climate experts hopeful politicians will agree a clear strategy at U.N. talks in Poznan
  • CEO The Climate Group: "We are moving towards a robust global framework"
  • Global Climate Network urge leaders to focus on rolling out technology and finance
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By Matthew Knight
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The United Nations Climate Conference underway in Poznan, Poland, hopes to build on the Bali Action Plan adopted by over 180 countries in 2007 and lay the groundwork for a new global climate agreement scheduled to be ratified at next year's climate summit in Denmark.

December 2008: Ice figures sit outside meeting rooms at the UN climate talks in Poznan, Poland.

But with the world in the grip of a global economic crisis, what can we expect this latest round of climate talks to achieve? CNN talks to three prominent voices in the climate change debate about their hopes for progress at Poznan.

Steve Howard is CEO of The Climate Group, an international, not-for-profit organization which brings governments and influential businesses -- including Google, HSBC and China Mobile -- together to discuss the path towards a low-carbon future.

Howard: "Expectations from Poznan are not exceptionally high, but there are some clear signals from the major players that we are moving towards a robust global framework. Poznan needs to set the stage for Copenhagen to have a realistic chance of success.

The fact that there is an informal delegation from President-elect Obama in Poznan and that there are something like 50 congressional staffers and congress people here is very, very welcome.

This signs are that the U.S. is about to engage robustly and constructively in this process. That means that businesses which operate internationally can see a greater carbon market coming. And for businesses that operate in the U.S. they know that actions will supplement statements.

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This is very helpful in the long term direction of travel, but what it doesn't do is give you the incentives and policy frameworks that businesses need now.

The exceptional pace of clean energy growth we were making in 2007 and early 2008 has now flattened off because these are all capital intensive projects and we have suddenly gone to a capital-starved world.

So the success for Poznan would be to link up the fiscal stimulus packages that people are talking about -- pumping money into the economy to fight off the recession -- and inject them into the clean energy projects.

From a business point of view, a success would be if the major countries showed that they were going to link up those economic packages with the long term policy.

Businesses want to see global legislation, but it may not be at Copenhagen.

Copenhagen may put a broad brush framework in place, but it will take six to eight months after that to work out the detail.

If you look at some of the major players, the European Union (EU) is having a bumpy ride with its climate and energy package, but overall no national government within the EU wants to be held accountable for derailing Europe's leadership on climate change and energy.

And then you go to the U.S. where the majority of states are favoring climate action. China is only second to Germany in terms of percentage of GDP spent on clean energy and are now the world renewables leader in terms of manufacturing wind turbines, solar thermal and photovoltaics.

The rest of the world is important -- India, Russia -- but if you have an EU, China, U.S. alignment then that's going to be pretty unbeatable.

For me, I would absolutely bet 100 percent that we'll get a global deal over the next two years. The question mark for me is will it be aggressive enough to meet with what we know of climate science.

With the right policy support businesses can deliver a low-carbon world that benefits everybody."

Andrew Pendleton is Secretariat of The Global Climate Network (GCN), a collaboration of independent and progressive research and policy organizations in eight countries including Brazil, China and the U.S. The GCN recently published a new discussion paper, "Closing the Mitigation Gap," which investigates how 2020 emissions targets can be achieved.

Pendleton: "What we have to grasp in both developed and developing countries is that the political reality governments have to face are no more immutable in the north than in the south.

Industrialized countries will say that they can't move any further because they are going to impose higher costs on their populations during an economic downturn.

The developing world will say, with equal legitimacy, that they can't impose these costs on their population while many of them are still poor. Both arguments are quite valid.

What the GCN is trying to say with its report is that we really need to get through to the political reality at the heart of the debate.

One of the problems with targets is that you need to know how you are going to achieve them. Ultimately, we need to put the roof on the house - i.e. we need to know where the limitation is. But perhaps we need to know how to build the house as well.

The way we think that this has got to happen is through a discussion about technology and how we rapidly accelerate the development of technology.

I don't think any of the people in the countries in which we operate are going to be willing to settle for a lower quality of life than they already have. So we need to very work hard in the technology area.

This is about driving technology and innovation very much quicker. To do that we need finance.

We feel negotiations should be focusing much more on technology and how to spread that around the world quickly and bring down the cost of technology rapidly.

Different countries are going to need different sorts of technology. So we can't crack this problem without carbon capture and storage being added to Chinese coal fired power stations in the future. Equally, we must stop forests in Brazil being cut down. Also, we will need low carbon technology which is quite low tech, to provide poor people with an escape from poverty.

If we come out of this week with no firm agreements, but with a shared vision and a clear signal to the negotiators to look really carefully at technology and finance, then I think that would be really useful.

A lot of environmental campaigners would like to see concrete results in terms of increased targets. That's not going to happen. We need to lower expectations which will take a little bit of the pressure off the politicians who need to get down to this discussion about technology and finance now.

Targets don't make cuts, technology and finance will. But we need a lot of both as soon as possible."

Nigel Arnell is Director of the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the UK's University of Reading.

Arnell: "At Kyoto in 1997, the rich nations of the world agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent (relative to 1990) by 2008-12. The big question now is: what happens after 2012?

This week in Poznan, countries from around the world are attempting to produce the blueprint for greenhouse gas emission reductions beyond 2012.

Crucially, for the first time, the discussions will include emission reduction targets for developing countries. Good progress in Poznan is vital if an agreement is to be finalized in Copenhagen next year and enter into force by 2012.

The science is clear: the climate is warming and climate change is set to get worse unless we take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While there is uncertainty, it's clear that further warming of as little as two degrees Celsius would mean very serious impacts around the world. There could be hundreds of millions of people at risk of water shortage, millions at risk from coastal flooding, reduced crop yields in developing countries and more than a third of the world's wildlife at increased risk of extinction.

Another key message from the science is that we can't avoid climate change altogether. The world's response needs to be a combination of adaptation (coping with climate change) and mitigation (actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

Poznan has adaptation high on the agenda. Parties are expected to put the finishing touches to the Kyoto Protocol's Adaptation Fund so that it is ready to roll out concrete projects in 2009.

But we can only prevent the most serious impacts by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. To have a reasonable chance of keeping further warming below two degrees Celsius, for example, we would need cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions of up to 60 percent (relative to 2000).

The longer we wait to take action to reduce emissions, the more drastic the reductions need to be. So the Poznan discussions need to include some tough emission reduction targets and the rich countries of the world need to lead the way if the developing nations are to come on board."

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