Emerging economies take the lead in Poznan
In the run-up to the UN climate summit in the Polish city of Poznan, governments, aid organizations and environmental groups were all keen to stress the importance of the meeting.
Led by the European Union, the summit was to take new steps to protect the world against an environmental disaster. Things turned out quite differently. Those who took the lead were the developing countries.
The safe seclusion of the conference center, where daylight hardly penetrates and air conditioners roar till the last guest leaves the building, stands in shrill contrast with Poland's gloomy weather and the pervasive stench of brown coal in Poznan's streets. They are worlds apart.
Al Gore in Poznan
The summit's rarified world is inhabited by policy makers and activists wielding wildly different agendas. Environmental organizations use playful happenings and a flood of pamphlets to denounce, yet again, the talks' slow progress. At the same time Western officials and cabinet ministers eagerly try to show that progress is being made, dismissing persistent claims that the meeting's predictable outcome will be dismal.
For all the efforts to keep the process alive, the summit was dominated by lethargy. Mired in transition, the United Sates hardly participated. The European Union above all displayed internal division over its own climate plan. As a result, the Poznan summit, rather than seeking achievements of its own, was focused on the climate talks in Brussels.
The European Trading Scheme, an EU programme that is essential to cut European greenhouse gas emissions and is unique in the world, was challenged throughout the summit. Consequently, the EU was quickly blamed for the summit's failure. If European countries can't reach agreement amongst themselves, how can they possibly show the way to other countries?
Not surprisingly, the developing countries stole the show. As expected, they deftly launched a host of plans and made clear promises. Mexico announced it had already begun reducing its carbon emissions, though it formally wasn't required to do so yet. Brazil pledged to take tough measures against deforestation. India unveiled a multi-billion solar energy scheme.
China too is ready to take a leading role in the climate debate. Before the summit, Beijing had promised to invest 600 billion dollars in clean technology and CO2 reductions. This means the country is no longer on the margins of the climate talks. On the contrary: China's delegation of well-prepared officials lobbied and debated with unprecedented vigour. Former Vice-President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore did not fail to notice and congratulated China for its energetic participation, though he also stressed the need for swift action.
During the discussions about the Adaptation Fund which helps developing countries cope with the consequences of climate change, such as drought, flooding and storms poor countries had their say too. They called for an end to the system by which funds get doled out by Western institutions such as the World Bank. Instead, they want all countries to have an equal voice.
With their firm stance the biggest emerging economies have given an important signal. They are showing leadership when other nations are not. This is not to deny the fact that countries such as Mexico and Brazil still partially depend on financial aid and knowledge from the West. But clearly they won't any longer sit back and wait for the industrialized countries to take the initiative. If Western countries want to avoid embarrassment, they will have to follow their example.
The resolute initiative taken at the Poznan summit by the developing countries sharply contrasts with the attitude of the emerging economies in Eastern Europe. The latter continue to reject climate measures on the grounds that they are too costly and harm their economies. Ironically, these very countries could avoid the mistakes the West made during the Industrial Revolution.
If Eastern Europe were to invest in a ‘Green Revolution', as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls it, and accepted Western help to replace its out-dated industrial plants and power stations with green technology, the region could build up a significant lead. In the end, Eastern Europe will have to accept climate control too. Better sooner than later.