Even amid a worldwide climate of economic collapse, hopes are running high for the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Poznan, Poland.
Yukon Environment Minister Elaine Taylor, territorial NDP Leader Todd Hardy and MLA Darius Elias will attend the conference, which is dubbed the Conference of the Parties. It will draw an estimated 10,000 delegates.
Optimism has stemmed largely from United States president-elect Barack Obama, who has promised more vigorous action on climate change once he takes office in January.
“We’ve always known that the US is the first key to it all,” said Yukon climate change specialist John Streicker, a participant in the 2005 UN environment conference in Montreal.
Previously, the United States has effectively ignored the Kyoto accord, an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases to 5.5 per cent below 1990 levels, that was negotiated at the 1997 UN climate conference in Kyoto, Japan.
In 2005, President George Bush said the accord would “wreck” the US economy.
On November 18th, Obama gave his blessing to US delegates to the Poznan Climate Leaders Summit, a summit of regional climate leaders occurring simultaneously with UN negotiations.
“And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global co-operation on climate change,” said Obama.
“Any nation that’s willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America,” he said.
With Obama’s endorsement, the Climate Leaders Summit will be a particularly significant hub of attention in Poznan — giving regional climate leaders such as Taylor a particularly strong influence, said Streicker.
However, Yukon officials, as part of the Canadian delegation, will not be inheriting a glittering reputation.
“The Canadian approach has been to not work constructively at the (Conference of the Parties) processes,” said Streicker.
Canada signed and ratified the Kyoto protocol, but the government has largely ignored it.
“It’s clear that we won’t make Kyoto targets, but it’s also clear to the world that we’re not trying,” said Streicker.
The purpose of Poznan is mainly to lay the groundwork for the 2009 conference in Copenhagen, at which point a second Kyoto accord is expected to be struck.
“Kyoto was five per cent below 1990 levels … by 2050 we believe we need to be something like 50 to 80 per cent below 1990 levels,” said Streicker.
Yukon officials enter the conference with no set mandate.
“At the present time, the Yukon Party hasn’t been very supportive of cap-and-trade or carbon taxes, so the challenge is, where does Ms. Taylor actually stand on this?” said Hardy.
UN environmental conferences are important steps towards instilling “international responsibility,” said Streicker.
“One of the great things about them is that when you get in there people start to feel, ‘My God, we’ve got to do something,’” said Streicker.
“The more people that can be involved, that can be enlightened, and that can have a voice there, even just by their very presence, the better chance that the process will keep moving forward,” said Hardy.
Taylor could not be reached for comment.
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