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Climate Hopes and Fears at Poznan
POZNAN, Poland, December 5, 2008 (ENS) - For the first time, a solar-powered car has traveled around the world, arriving at the UN climate conference in Poznan Thursday with the United Nations' top climate official Yvo de Boer onboard for the last few meters to mark the historic moment.

The solar taxi pulls up in front of the Poznan conference hall. December 4, 2008 (Photo courtesy Louis Palmer)

Owner and driver Louis Palmer, a Swiss schoolteacher, will keep his "solar taxi" at the conference until it closes on December 12, offering rides to delegates, ministers and the press, before he heads back to Switzerland.

The solar taxi has been on the road for almost 18 months and has covered around 54,000 kilometers (33,550 miles) through 38 countries to claim a world record. Palmer undertook the trip to demonstrate that clean technologies are available now to curb global warming.

Inside the conference hall, countries, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations are making commitments and launching publications in an effort to limit climate change.

Earlier this week, Brazil set an ambitious target of reducing its deforestation rate by 70 percent over the next 10 years. Brazil is the world's fourth largest emitter of global warming pollution, and about 80 percent of Brazil's global warming emissions come from clearing of the Amazon rainforest and the Atlantic coastal forest.

At Poznan today, the World Resources Institute and the Environmental Investigation Agency launched a partnership to combat illegal logging worldwide and clean up timber supply chains. These efforts are intended to limit climate change, which is linked to deforestation because trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The partnership focuses on a 100 year old U.S. wildlife trafficking law known as the Lacey Act, which was just amended to include plant products, including timber and wood.

"The Lacey Act, if enforced, has the potential to send a powerful signal around the world that the U.S. is serious about curtailing illegal logging. Increasingly, illegal logging and deforestation contribute to climate change," said Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC based research and advocacy organization.

Said Alexander von Bismarck, executive director at Environmental Investigation Agency, based in Washington and London, "The bill marks the first time that a major consuming country has made the trade in illegally logged wood a crime. It provides a precedent-setting tool to change the face of a $1 trillion industry, reduce deforestation, and improve forestry governance."

A side event organized by Friends of the Earth presents a critical analysis of REDD: international finance, human rights and false promises of carbon markets. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

December 6 is the official Forest Day for delegates at the UN climate conference, where both organizations will be holding events to explain the links between deforestation and climate change.

Close to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are a result of deforestation, climate experts calculate. At Poznan, negotiators are seeking to advance plans to fund a mechanism called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, REDD, as part of the post-2012 climate deal that is the object of this UN conference.

Today at Poznan, the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, released the first atlas with maps pinpointing overlaps of high carbon emissions and high biodiversity.

The research gives preliminary indications of where investments to cut emissions from deforestation can aid in combating climate change and also help the conservation of biodiversity, from amphibians and birds to primates.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "At a time of scarce financial resources and economic concerns, every dollar, Euro or rupee needs to deliver double, even triple dividends. Intelligent investment in forests is a key example where climate benefits and ecosystem benefits can be achieved in one transaction."

Steiner said a successful REDD mechanism must ensure that local and indigenous people can benefit.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership is set to launch pilot activities to test the potential of achieving these "multiple benefits" from REDD in Central Africa and Southeast Asia, said Steiner.

Experts are examining how investments in conserving carbon-absorbing forests on the Nigeria-Cameroon border may also conserve the habitat of the critically endangered Cross River gorilla. Only 250-300 animals remain.

Delegates at Poznan (Photo courtesy ENB)

And in Indonesia, national and local authorities, communities and the oil palm sector will be engaged to reduce emissions that result from clearing the carbon-rich peat-swamp forest, where endangered orangutans cling to survival.

Electronic copies of the atlas are online at www.unep.org/pdf/carbon_biodiversity.pdf and at www.unep-wcmc.org. A more detailed atlas is expected in 2009 ahead of the UN climate meeting in December in Copenhagen where the final post-Kyoto climate agreement is expected to be finalized.

Agreement on a post-Kyoto climate regime will require the support of the business community, which issued encouraging signals today.

Environment Business Australia issued a statement saying that the organization believes cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent against today's baseline are possible. "We would support the Government beginning with a soft start of 25 percent cuts by 2020 but anything below that would be squelchy rather than soft," said the business group.

"Without immediate and meaningful action to tackle climate change, the biggest economic and security threat that has ever faced humanity will likely evolve to irreversible levels," said Environment Business Australia.

Not all is serious at Poznan. Delegates bring a smile to the face of UNFCC chief Yvo de Boer, right. (Photo courtesy ENB)

EBA suggests commercially viable approaches that will help build new markets, new industry sectors and new employment such as, "Increasing energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy; scaling up sources of renewable energy to supply baseload energy - potentially making Australia a regional hub by 2030 for minerals processing and manufacturing fueled by mega-clean energy parks; making buildings and cities carbon neutral; improving public transport and taking car tailpipes off the road with electric or hydrogen vehicles; recycling materials."

Yet, despite encouraging signals, there are also obstacles to progress at Poznan - most related to the global financial crisis.

Friends of the Earth International Climate and Energy Campaigner Stephanie Long said industrialized countries are "dodging the issue of funding poorer countries’ adaptation to climate change."

"Poorer countries face an increase in storms, floods, famines and droughts due to climate change, yet the pot of money that rich countries have put aside to deal with this is almost empty," she said.

"The Adaptation Fund was finally agreed and established one year ago. Yet to date, developed countries have pledged less than US $300 million to it, a tiny fraction of the US $86 billion the UN says is needed," said Long.

At the same time that funds are drying up, the situation of small island states is becoming desperate. At least six Caribbean islands - Haiti, Dominican Republic, Dominica, Jamaica, Martinique and Saint Lucia - were on Thursday ranked in the top 40 countries experiencing extreme weather impacts by the 2009 Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index.

Germanwatch is an independent nongovernmental organization that monitors trade, environment and the relationship between developed and developing countries.

Delegates at Poznan (Photo courtesy ENB)

According to Germanwatch climate modeler Stefan Rahmstorff, Caribbean countries needed to push industrialized countries to address their emissions as the small islands would face the effects of inaction.

"Fundamentally, small countries which don't contribute to the problem should press those developed countries to help them with their adaptation measures. Those causing the emissions should be the ones that help to deal with issues," he said after presenting a paper on the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change recorded since 2007.

This week in Poznan, delegates continued their discussions to develop a shared vision of a future climate change agreement. Finding adequate financial resources, technology transfer, and prioritizing adaptation wer emphasized.

South Africa, speaking for the African Group of countries, said a shared vision should address all elements of the Bali Action Plan reached at last year's UN climate conference in Indonesia.

The European Union said a shared vision requires efforts by all parties. The United States said a shared vision should be optimistic, pragmatic and reflect evolving scientific and economic realities.

The Philippines, speaking for the G-77/China Group, said a shared vision must meet all the commitments that parties have agreed to under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, left, and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer at Poznan (Photo courtesy ENB)

Representatives of the Climate Action Network, a worldwide network of 430 nongovernmental organizations, told Poznan delegates that global emissions must peak and begin declining within 10 years to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Close to 11,000 participants, including government delegates from 186 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and representatives from business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions, are attending the two-week gathering.

Opening the meeting on Monday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk pointed to the urgent need for progress at Poznan. "Scientists share the view that warming in excess of two degrees Celsius will result in irreversible changes to nearly all ecosystems and the human communities," he said.

"We shoulder the responsibility to prevent changes that could lastingly disturb the symbiosis between humankind and nature."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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