Poznan, Sleep Deprivation and Promises of Disappointment

Dense fog hangs inside and outside the Frankfurt airport, a hazy waypoint on the road to Poznan.

As the most dedicated climate policy watchers all know, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is currently in its 14th session in Poznan, Poland. For the last week, senior climate policy negotiators from around the world have been feeling one another out, testing support for ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets to replace the now irrelevant Kyoto accord (which times out in 2012).

This week, a collection of politicians are scheduled to join the party, and the early reports suggest that they will shift the mood from merely pessimistic to decidedly defeatist.

On behalf of the DeSmogBlog, I will be on the ground in Poznan, ready to bring you the news. But first I have to overcome the physical and metaphorical mist that is clouding my Frankfurt stopping point.

The fog has already established itself as a theme for this trip. My first flight (Nanaimo to Vancouver) was cancelled 20-odd hours ago, forcing me to a more climate friendly (if time-consuming) ferry ride to catch the Vancouver-Frankfurt leg. Once aboard the packed Lufthansa Airbus 340, I was able to join my fellow passengers in imagining that the economy is still strong and the environment still resilient.

The Lufthansa service was great and the crowd was ebullient. I sat beside a Canadian software developer on his way to India to lead a crack team through a deadline project. For him, at least, business is booming. The rest of the plane seemed filled with holiday makers - lucky travellers who can afford off-season Euro vacations and who somehow avoid thinking about the effect of airline travel on climate change.

Now, I am sitting in a Frankfurt lounge, looking out over the fading forms of jetliners from all the world’s “great civilizations” - in each of which, crew members are hurrying to ready the planes for another distructive trip, financed by family savings and tax-deductible business accounts.

At least when I get to Poznan, I expect to see that the 8,000+ attendants at the climate conference all have little green Terra Pass luggage tags (like mine), showing that they paid a get-out-of-guilt carbon offset fee before boarding the plane.

In that light, there might be reason to praise the no-show delegates representing President-elect Barack Obama - at least they’re not flying. Keeping to his “one president at a time” policy, Obama and company are staying home, allowing the Bush administration one more opportunity to embarrass itself on the world stage. That means that Americans will once more fight against ANY fixed targets for CO2 reduction. They’ll make lame arguments about how it’s not fair for the biggest polluter in the world to bind itself to fixed limits when struggling economies like India and China have not yet had to commit.

Of course, President George Bush has succeeded in giving the U.S. a struggling economy as well, adding what he probably thinks is the best excuse yet for protecting Exxon profits at the expense of a sustainable human environment.

As a Canadian, of course, I have to acknowledge that the American position on climate change - though unforgivable - is at least more credible than the Canadian stance. As Dave Martin at Greenpeace summarizes nicely in this blog post, Canada continues to argue that because we are rich in resources, we should be allowed to exploit our wealth without restraint. (I know that doesn’t make sense. I don’t write the policies, I just report them.)

Canada has been sweeping up the Fossil of the Day awards in Poznan for its irresponsible - sometimes laughable - negotiating positions. As Martin says:

“The fourth fossil award went to Canada for suggesting that “national circumstances” are the reason for Canada being almost 30 per cent above its Kyoto target. Specifically, Canada cited its large size and cold climate and as two reasons for its failure to reduce emissions. These excuses are just plain wrong. Emission targets are set relative to historical levels – in the case of Canada and other Kyoto signatories, the base year of 1990. To the best of my knowledge, Canada has not become any bigger since 1990. And far from getting colder, Canada has become warmer due to climate change.”

So much for the old Pearsonian vision of Canada as an honest broker on the world stage. We’re acting instead like a wealthy (and still fabulously successful) banker who has cancelled his philanthropic contributions because of the tight economy - the needy be damned.

It’s a shame that I have no real optimism that we shall emerge from this fog of selfish self-deception any time soon. Regardless of the quite horrifying predictions coming from people like military journalist and analyst Gwynne Dyer (read Climate Wars soon and add copies to your denier-relatives’ stockings for Christmas) and from think tanks like the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, we humans continue to cling to our delusions, wrapping ourselves in a wispy blanket of denial and avoidance.

But maybe Canadian Environment Minister (and rumoured Stephen Harper replacement-in-waiting) Jim Prentice will show up tomorrow and prove me wrong. Please.

Just let me get some sleep first. That’s something I want to witness with a clear head.