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Youth Embarrassed By US Delegation at Climate Conference


The opening day of the UN's annual climate conference in Poland attracted close to 11,000 people. (Photo courtesy UNFCCC)

OZNAN, Poland  - The U.S. climate delegation's "sidestepping and recalcitrance" in a news conference on the opening morning of the United Nations annual climate conference in Poznan was denounced by the international climate campaign and a group of young people from the United States who are attending the meetings.

Lead U.S. negotiator, Ambassador Harlan Watson, representing the outgoing administration of President George W. Bush, dodged reporters' questions about whether or not the United States would commit to emissions targets or funding for developing countries to address global warming.

"It's an embarrassment," said Jamie Henn, co-founder and a U.S. youth delegate. "With the election of Barack Obama we showed the world we were ready to commit to real action on climate change. All this lame-duck delegation is offering is more of the same."

Henn asked delegates from other countries to ignore the current U.S. delegation and focus on the next administration's commitments.

"Thanks in large part to the work of young people across the United States, President-elect Obama has committed the U.S. to 80 percent cuts in carbon by 2050," Henn said. "That's the type of serious action scientists are saying is necessary to stabilize atmospheric C02 at the safe upper limit of 350 parts per million."

The figure 350 in the organization's name is the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere in parts per million. Led by author Bill McKibben and a staff of young organizers from around the world, partners with more than 100 organizations to push for a strong international climate treaty that meets the 350 ppm target.

Twenty young people from the United States are attending the Poland climate meetings, representing every region of the country and youth organizations like the Energy Action Coalition and SustainUS.

"As youth representatives of the United States, we're working with other young people from around the world here in Poland," said Jeremy Osborn, a 24 year old from Connecticut. "It's time for our government to do the same. If we can all get along and work together, so can they."

U.S. youth pledged to keep up the pressure after the conference concludes on December 12. "In the next year we are planning everything from a 10,000 person youth climate conference in [Washington] DC this February to an international day of action next October," Henn said. "This is just the beginning."

The two-week meeting, the 14th Conference of the 192 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, and the fourth meeting of the 183 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, is the half-way mark in the negotiations on an ambitious and effective international response to climate change. The deal is to be clinched in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 and will take effect in 2013, the year after the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

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


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Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, opening the meeting, 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. We shoulder the responsibility to prevent changes that could lastingly disturb the symbiosis between humankind and nature," he said.

Professor Maciej Nowicki, Polish Minister of the Environment and President of the Conference, warned that the planet has reached the limits of its confined system and that a business as usual scenario is not an option.

"Huge droughts and floods, cyclones with increasingly more destructive power, tropical disease pandemics, a dramatic decline of biodiversity  all these can cause social or even armed conflicts and migration of populations at an unprecedented scale," he warned.

In Poland, ministers and other delegates will discuss their vision for long-term cooperative action on climate change. In Poznan, ministers will have their first opportunity to discuss a "shared vision for long-term cooperative action."

One of the key questions will be what kind of mechanisms need to be put in place to deliver on finance, technology and capacity building to help developing countries curb emissions, spur green growth and to cope with the inevitable impacts of climate change.

During 2008, Parties submitted proposals and ideas for stronger climate change action. The more than 700 pages of proposals have been distilled into a single document of 82 pages, which governments can now refine further in light of what they want to negotiate in 2009.

"The fact that there is a text on the table offers governments the first real opportunity of moving beyond the phase of exchanging ideas into one where they will be expressing their position on specific proposals," said Luiz Figueiredo Machado, chair of the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention. "I am looking forward to see how this text will be fine-tuned in the course of the meeting.

In 2007, Parties agreed to consider a greenhouse gas emission reduction range of minus 25 to minus 40 per cent over 1990 levels, a range which could be confirmed at Poznan.

Addressing the delegates in Poznan, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, pointed to the need to achieve progress on issues which are important in the short run - up to the end of 2012 - including adaptation, finance, technology and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

"The conference needs to deliver on on-going issues, especially issues that are important to developing countries," he said. "And there is huge pressure on available time up to Copenhagen in 2009," he said. "So next to on-going work, the conference also needs to lay a solid foundation for an ambitious climate change deal at Copenhagen."

Alluding to the financial and economic crisis and the opportunities of green and sustainable economic growth, de Boer, who is the UN's top climate change official, called on delegates to "increasingly focus on how the climate change regime could become self-financing and to link climate change policies to economic recovery."

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