Poznan: Green Leader Despairs at Conference Potential

“It’s like attending a family reunion on the Titanic.”

Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May is a difficult person to interview at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland. She seems to know nearly everyone, and when she isn’t waving and smiling at passersby, she is fending off phone calls or emails buzzing on her blackberry.

But regardless of the old-home week atmosphere, she is bleakly disappointed about what’s going on in this sprawling conference centre. Having attended the organizational meeting for the UNFCCC in 1990 and the inaugural meeting in Rio in 1992, and being a veteran of many “COP” (Conference of the Parties) meetings for the inrternational biodiversity treaty, she has seen her share of such events.

“But this has a dreadful pall to it.”

As others have said, the real work in these meetings is often condensed into the last couple of days. ut May says, “At this point, the state of play is such that I can’t imagine what kind of agreements are even possible.” People had set their sites so low that “it’s hard not to dismiss this as a waste of time.”

That’s a tragedy, she says, particularly because there is so much work left to do to negotiate a Kyoto replacement treay in time for next year’s COP in Copenhagen.

But waste or not, she’s glad she came. Given how little attention is being paid to this event by Canadian media, and how obstructionist the Canadian government has been during the negotiations, May said she wants to do what she can to make sure that “Poznan gets noticed.”

The absence of mainstream Canadian media is a continuing problem at these meetings. Even when the COP was held in Montreal in 2005, the Globe and Mail didn’t bother to send a reporter, and at this meeting (the DeSmogBlog excepted) there are no English-language Canadian reporters. And, given their absence, they even less likely to promote coverage over the phone or to pick up press releases, because it tends to point out their failure to actually attend the event.

That wasn’t as much of a problem last year, when the meeting was in Bali, because then-Environment Minister John Baird generated so much attention through the bumbling and the beligerence of his actions.

New Conservative Environment Minister “Jim Prentice won’t make the same mistake,” May said.

Even though Canada has not changed its negotiating position, May expected Prentice to be much better behaved, a prediction that was upheld today when the minister met with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition this afternoon. While these meetings are often emotionally charged, Prentice “was toeing the party line but he was doing it eloquently,” said youth delegate Katherine Trajan. He was extraordinarily careful not to take a confrontational tone” - which was well advised, given that at least one youth delegate stormed out of a tearful meeting yesterday with Alberta Environment Minister Bob Renner.

But as Canada captures yet another Fossil of the Day award (this time for making an official complaint because Canadian youth delegates had mounted a display of tar sands photos), May said she is optimistic that Canadians will come to understand Canada’s role here.

The whole event “has been a contest for who wcould be more morally bankrupt,” May said, adding that Canada has been too much in contention for taking first place.

Richard Littlemore is in Poznan reporting for DeSmoglog. He is the first blogger to be ever given full media credentials by the United Nations.


Politicians can’t commit their countries to doing things their people don’t want, or, perhaps more accurately, that they haven’t stood in an election seeking a mandate to do.  It isn’t so much a question of being morally bankrupt, although it looks that way by the time you see a politician do whatever it takes to get into power and then show up at an event like this. 

Look what happened to Dion when he put climate front and center and called to Canadians to support him as he did it.  His party went down to its greatest defeat in recent memory, he’s been swept out of the leadership already, and his replacement gave an interview this morning on CBC that didn’t mention climate at all. 

Look at what happened in BC when Campbell brought in a carbon tax.  I read of polls that showed GREEN PARTY members were majority opposed to that tax, when gas prices were high, and the tax was front and centre in the news.  People simply don’t understand how serious this climate issue is. 

The US and China have yet to face each other in a serious negotiation on climate.  It seems to be thought at events like Poznan that the US and China will have to join their process, so they can build on all the work that’s gone into what they’re going nowhere with at the moment, but it might not happen.  Half of the emissions of the world are going on in the US and China, and they might have completely different ideas of what an agreement that would actually do a job would be.

Kyoto was an agreement to slightly reduce the rate of acceleration into global catastrophe.  I don’t call that very much, except horrifying.  It was historic, but just for the fact that it said it was about climate, some nations signed it, and less of them tried to live up to it. Actual levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are beyond what anyone thought were possible by now.  Something like this in any other world other than the climate conference world is called it didn’t work, it was an abject failure.

Chu has been saying he wants Copenhagen to be an agreement that would actually achieve a stabilized atmosphere with climate change limited to 2 degrees.  When was the last time anyone heard a Cabinet level official in the US say something like this?  Obama campaigned saying he was going to stake out a US leadership position on climate.

Maybe that pall hanging over Poznan is the dark hour just before the dawn.  We may well be the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg, but we’re human beings, and if we ever wake up and start working on something together everything will feel different.  Its a time to let the past go.


We can’t go to the polls for a new mandate every time a policy decision must be made.  Environmental issues are part of every party’s platform, but the situation is fluid.  The Globe reports today that the arctic could be ice-free in the summer of 2015, much, much earlier than the IPCC 4th report suggests.  Stalling off with a lame excuse that “we didn’t go to the people for a mandate on this” is not going to get anyone anywhere.  As with the economic crisis, the rest of the world is responding NOW, while the Harper government hides behind a technicality allowing him to mothball Parliament while he stacks the Senate (don’t get me started …).  Prentice is worse than an embarrassment: he & his government are an impediment to finding solutions. 

But politicians can commit their countries to doing nothing about a problem.

NOAA NWS e-mail, to all hands

Re: Kyoto Agreement, The Administration and recent news
Resent-From: [email protected]
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2005

… “This is the official Administration’s position. You will receive a
name of a contact, hopefully later today, to direct public inquiry.”

Entire message at: