Poznan, a western Polish city with a neat historical city center, these days not only is the stage for the United Nations' yearly climate jamboree, but also for unusual publicity stunts -- staged, for example, by the world's top skiers and a Swiss teacher in a solar car.
While the skiers, sloping down a ramp of trucked-in ice, warned that global warming would cause mountain glaciers to melt, Swiss schoolteacher Louis Palmer arrived in Poznan just in time to remind delegates of the healing powers of the sun: After a 17-month, 32,000-mile, 38-country trip, Palmer became the first man to circle the globe in a solar taxi.
Not the speediest of trips, one may argue, but that holds true also for the political journey that delegates in Poznan are on.
A year ago the world's nations agreed to a two-year push for an ambitious climate-protection treaty to be signed in Copenhagen, Denmark, in late 2009. The treaty would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and forces countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. The Dec. 1-12 meeting in Poznan comes halfway, but experts say delegates are seriously behind in reaching an agreement.
"We're working under a very tight timeline," Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Tuesday in Poznan. "I don't think, where we are now, it is going to be feasible to develop a fully elaborated, long-term response to climate change in Copenhagen."
A day before the publicity-heavy high-level meeting (Dec. 11-12) is set to begin, countries still disagree over how to finance climate-protection measures and emissions reductions during a global economic crisis, observers say.
Delegates in Poznan are also unsure how to act as one of the world's biggest emitters, the United States, is in the transition phase to a new government. The magnitude of action by India and China, two quickly growing economies, also will depend on how much the United States would be willing to shoulder, observers say.
Elliot Diringer, an expert with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said Wednesday the fact that the Obama team won't join negotiations until after Jan. 20 "places some limits on what can be reached in Poznan ... but is no major bearing on the mood or momentum here."
He added the team sent by the current administration "is doing a good job in keeping things open" for the next administration.
Diringer and other experts expect Obama to turn the United States, after years of inaction, into a global leader on climate protection.
President-elect Barack Obama has promised to drastically cut U.S. emissions -- currently at nearly 17 percent above 1990 levels -- to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This far outperforms any proposals made by the current administration.
However, the Pew Center last week said 2009 came too early for Obama to agree to formal targets in Copenhagen, in light of the many problems the new administration will have to tackle.
This development worries de Boer and many environmental groups, who hope Obama will soon deliver on his more short-term campaign pledge to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Experts say the United States needs to join the fight against global warming, as concerted action is needed to avoid catastrophic consequences for the globe.
A 2 degree Celsius rise of global temperatures, which experts say is virtually unstoppable, would cause more severe storms and droughts, subject some 2 billion people to water shortages by 2050 and threaten at least one-fifth of the world's species with extinction, according to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Yet it seems the economic crisis is taking the wind out of the sails of the green movement, with several member states of the European Union (once a global leader in climate protection) criticizing the body's emissions-reduction goals as too ambitious.
It was economic concerns that in recent years caused U.S. President George W. Bush to duck calls for agreeing to binding emissions reductions, arguing they would cripple the energy-heavy U.S. economy.
So far, Obama is arguing almost the opposite -- he has said he would revive the ailing U.S. economy with a $150 billion program to fund renewable energy sources and energy efficiency -- something like a green New Deal. Obama hopes for 5 million jobs to be created by the green energy sector.
He has backing from many big U.S. companies, and even from Republicans such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who told Poznan delegates in a video message earlier this week that fighting climate change will also support the global economy.
"There are some people who say that we can't afford the fight against global warming while our economies are down, but the exact opposite is true," he said. "The green rules and regulations that will help save our planet will also revive our economies."