A new push to combat global warming at a UN climate change conference in Poland is being overshadowed by the world's economic downturn and rising greenhouse-gas emissions in rich and emerging nations.
Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Poznan
The two-week UN climate conference that began in Poznan, Poland, on Monday, Dec. 1, is meant to put governments on track for a new global deal to save the climate that leaders can approve in Denmark in a year's time.
"The need for real progress on tackling climate change has never been more urgent," said Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate official. "The effects of climate change that science has identified are already weighing upon those most vulnerable."
An array of clashing interests is expected to come into focus at Poznan as delegates chart a way to create a successor the Kyoto Protocol. That pact binds 35 developed nations to limit emissions of gases linked to the earth's warming, notably carbon dioxide spewed out when fossil fuel burn.
Global efforts are focused on finding a deal that sets legally binding emissions rules for both rich and poor countries after the Kyoto pact expires in 2012.
New hope with Obama
Obama seems more climate-friendly than the current US president
The United States, the world's biggest polluter, never joined the 1997 treaty. Heading into the UN talks, President-elect Barack Obama has cheered environmentalists and many governments with his pledges to re-engage the US in climate negotiations.
US President George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto pact, in part because it failed to set limits for fast-growing developing economies like China, which according to some measures has overtaken the US as the world's biggest polluter.
But even under Obama, any deal that excludes emerging economies would face severe trouble if the president asked the US Senate to ratify it. At Poznan, the United States will be represented by the Bush administration, with Obama's transition team expected to send its own observers.
A key bargaining point will be over ways for developing nations to speed up financing and technological aid to poorer countries to help them clean up their industries and power plants, especially coal-fired generators.
In an effort to speed progress, delegates will work off a complete draft treaty text for the first time since the latest round of talks began a year ago.
Europe lacks unity
EU members find it hard to agree on climate change measures
Europeans will seek to push negotiations "into a higher gear," European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said.
The EU, seeking to spur action by the rest of the world, has pledged to cut its carbon dioxide emissions to at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, regardless of whether other powers follow suit.
But the 27 nations are split over its own plans to fight climate, with Italy and ex-communist nations in eastern Europe rejecting proposed emissions cuts for their countries. The dispute raises questions about how effectively Europe can lobby for a wider deal.
Europe's squabbling has highlighted the impact of the global financial crisis and resulting economic slump, which de Boer said "will throw a shadow" over negotiations.
Many European leaders as well as Obama point out that promoting environmental technology and measures such as auctioning of emissions rights -- something already under way in Europe -- can help pay for the cost of curbing global warming.
Latest UN data from 40 industrialized nations show that emissions of greenhouse gases believed to be warming the earth's atmosphere rose by 2.3 percent between 2000 and 2006, when the world economy was booming. The biggest increase -- 7.4 percent -- came in emerging countries, UN climate officials said.