Comment: Russia stalls Poznan talks, earns Fossil of the Day award

Publish date: December 7, 2008

POZNAN, Poland - Russia’s insistence that each country’s specifics be considered before deciding on universal greenhouse gas emissions goals may lead to the world effectively giving up on its collective push to emission cuts. If these seeds of discord find enough of ripe soil to fall into, Russia’s proposal will make it easy for all to come up with a pretext to evade any commitments.

At the UN climate talks in Poznan, Poland, Russia’s official delegation last Thursday was given the dubious Fossil of the Day award – a title conferred for blocking progress in international talks to cut global greenhouse gas emissions.

Russia shared this prize with Japan and Canada. At the ceremony, the “winners” were each presented with the statuette of a dinosaur decorated with the contestant’s national flag. The awards for the most disruptive actions undertaken during a UN climate change conference are given out by an international coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that work to urge their governments to come forward with specific commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Click here for more information about the Fossil of the Day award.

The case for Russia as the dinosaur at the climate change negotiation table was settled by a speech given by a representative of the Russian delegation at a session where individual countries’ potential contributions to emission cuts were discussed, as well as statements made during talks held by one of the contact groups.

In particular, on Thursday, the Russian delegate said that while shaping up emission reduction goals, one should first and foremost take into consideration the specifics of an individual country. This statement camouflages a desire to disassociate from a global approach to emission cuts and bring about a situation where each country is free to look for any pretexts to avoid reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause catastrophic changes in the global climate.

To prevent the most harmful consequences of global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut universally by 25 to 40 percent by 2020. Many NGOs believe that by 2020, Russia is capable of stabilising its emissions level at the values of 2005, though this is an extremely ambitious goal. In unofficial chats behind the scenes, the Russian delegate’s speech at the conference on Wednesday has since been bringing out many a chuckle. Instead of detailing Russia’s potential in emission cuts, the delegate told the audience that it is very cold in Russia and that there are a lot of wide spaces. This was apparently a hint that the country’s peculiarities do not allow it to cut its emissions.

The Poznan conference is one of the important stages in developing a global agreement that is planned to replace in 2013 the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty inked in 1997 to provide for a collective reduction in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions. Even though several nations have already announced specific levels by which they aim to bring their future emissions down, Russia still refuses to assume any concrete obligations. Even the US has put forward its plans to cut emissions – these goals, though considered insufficient by a number of countries, have been declared by US President-elect Barack Obama – and the US is not even a party to the Kyoto Protocol.

Russia ranks third in the world in the amount of greenhouse gases it releases into the atmosphere. It is completely within our capabilities to achieve a radical cut in emissions by 2020. The protocol that is set to come into force in 2013, should contain strict obligations for all countries to reduce emissions, and not wishy-washy phrasings that allow one to do nothing because it is too cold or too hot in this country or another.

The climate talks in Poland have gathered together over 10,000 envoys sent by 186 nations. Poznan is hosting two principal meetings: The 14th Conference of the 192 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 4th meeting of the 183 parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

This comment was written by Ecodefense, a Russian environmental group that frequently contributes to Bellona Web. Ecodefense co-chairman Vladimir Slivyak is participating in the ongoing UN Climate Conference in Poznan, Poland as an official observer.

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