Poznan: Green Leader Despairs at Conference Potential

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“It’s like attending a family reunion on the Titanic.”

Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May is a difficult person to interview at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland. She seems to know nearly everyone, and when she isn’t waving and smiling at passersby, she is fending off phone calls or emails buzzing on her blackberry.

But regardless of the old-home week atmosphere, she is bleakly disappointed about what’s going on in this sprawling conference centre. Having attended the organizational meeting for the UNFCCC in 1990 and the inaugural meeting in Rio in 1992, and being a veteran of many “COP” (Conference of the Parties) meetings for the inrternational biodiversity treaty, she has seen her share of such events.

“But this has a dreadful pall to it.”

As others have said, the real work in these meetings is often condensed into the last couple of days. ut May says, “At this point, the state of play is such that I can’t imagine what kind of agreements are even possible.” People had set their sites so low that “it’s hard not to dismiss this as a waste of time.”

That’s a tragedy, she says, particularly because there is so much work left to do to negotiate a Kyoto replacement treay in time for next year’s COP in Copenhagen.

But waste or not, she’s glad she came. Given how little attention is being paid to this event by Canadian media, and how obstructionist the Canadian government has been during the negotiations, May said she wants to do what she can to make sure that “Poznan gets noticed.”

The absence of mainstream Canadian media is a continuing problem at these meetings. Even when the COP was held in Montreal in 2005, the Globe and Mail didn’t bother to send a reporter, and at this meeting (the DeSmogBlog excepted) there are no English-language Canadian reporters. And, given their absence, they even less likely to promote coverage over the phone or to pick up press releases, because it tends to point out their failure to actually attend the event.

That wasn’t as much of a problem last year, when the meeting was in Bali, because then-Environment Minister John Baird generated so much attention through the bumbling and the beligerence of his actions.

New Conservative Environment Minister “Jim Prentice won’t make the same mistake,” May said.

Even though Canada has not changed its negotiating position, May expected Prentice to be much better behaved, a prediction that was upheld today when the minister met with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition this afternoon. While these meetings are often emotionally charged, Prentice “was toeing the party line but he was doing it eloquently,” said youth delegate Katherine Trajan. He was extraordinarily careful not to take a confrontational tone” – which was well advised, given that at least one youth delegate stormed out of a tearful meeting yesterday with Alberta Environment Minister Bob Renner.

But as Canada captures yet another Fossil of the Day award (this time for making an official complaint because Canadian youth delegates had mounted a display of tar sands photos), May said she is optimistic that Canadians will come to understand Canada’s role here.

The whole event “has been a contest for who wcould be more morally bankrupt,” May said, adding that Canada has been too much in contention for taking first place.

Richard Littlemore is in Poznan reporting for DeSmoglog. He is the first blogger to be ever given full media credentials by the United Nations.

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