The world’s climate bureaucrats have their passports in their pockets and are about to head to Poznań in Poland for the next round of international climate change talks.

We are just 13 months away from the deadline for the world to agree on a new plan to avoid catastrophic climate change. The anniversary of Kevin Rudd being in office also marks the anniversary of the Bali talks and Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

Despite the photo-opportunities and the fast-flowing rhetoric, there has so far been little progress on the post-Kyoto deal. That means there is a lot hanging on this round of talks which kick off on December 1. They are the last before the crunch time for real decisions need to be made in Copenhagen, in December 2009.

Unfortunately, Poznań has been billed as a meeting about another meeting.

The global economic meltdown, the timing of the US election and irrepressibly short attention spans by most governments has led to politicians delighting in talking down the chances for genuine progress at Poznań.

Australia’s climate change minister, Penny Wong, has described Poznań as “a working conference” which “will bring together all the countries of the world to … see where we’ve got to and to continue to push forward on the work agenda.”

Despite the low bar being set, what will be decided at Poznan is the international “shared vision” for the global agreement on climate change.

Remove the bureau-speak, and what this means is that the international community must set out just how much global warming it is prepared to accept. Can we live with Pacific island nations drowning, or the Great Barrier Reef dying? Or are we prepared to do more to ensure that we give future generations a planet that they can continue to inhabit?

From this shared vision statement, it will be clear what targets need to be written into the Copenhagen agreement.

The vision that should be for a climate change plan that is comprehensive, ambitious and equitable. This is because to have any chance of stopping the climate crisis, the Copenhagen agreement must keep warming as far below 2ºC as possible.

That means developed countries must reduce emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020.

At the very minimum, Australia will be expected to fall into line with the emissions reduction range of 25-40% by 2020 agreed to for developed nations at the Bali talks, or risk being an international laughing stock.

At Poznan, all eyes will be on Ms Wong. The international community will be waiting for her to make a strong statement on the levels of warming Australia is prepared to accept.

Ms Wong and the Federal Government can also be a leader in these talks by championing a vision for long-term action that limits global warming to levels that give the Great Barrier Reef and other Australian icons a fighting chance of survival.

Given that 20% of all carbon emissions come from forest destruction, she should also advocate for a fund to help stop tropical deforestation in a way that not only fights climate change, but also protects biodiversity and supports forest communities.

Developing countries will also need to contribute to emission reduction efforts, but this can only be achieved with financial, technological and capacity building support from developed countries.

For starters, the plan must include a shift to a sustainable, low (and eventually zero) carbon global economy, a massive increase in the roll-out of existing renewable technologies and the development of new ones.

World leaders must also recognise that adequate international climate change action will require significant financial investment. They can’t profess to care about the climate, and then baulk at the price tag. This is a big-ticket problem with big-ticket item solutions.

The priority area for financial support in developing countries needs to be adaptation – for example, helping low lying Pacific nations build sea walls to protect them from storm surges, ensuring there is a huge uptake of renewable technology, and stopping tropical deforestation and degradation.

Governments — including Australia’s — have yet to show that they fully grasp how severe the climate crisis is or how urgent the need for decisive, effective action has become.

With only 12 months left to finalise an agreement for the next and most critical period, Poznan is where governments must get serious about climate change. Our eyes will be on them.

Peter Fray

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