Poznan is a shambles

The crucial climate change negotiations in Poznan, Poland, are heading nowhere fast. Charged with producing a plan for cutting carbon emissions, governments have so far produced copious amounts of hot air and little else, with ministers recycling vague promises of future action.

They doubtless go to bed at night muttering a variant of St Augustine's prayer: "Oh Lord make us chaste - but not just yet." Unfortunately, this is one of those now or never moments. The conference marks the halfway point on the road map for negotiating a new UN climate convention. It is supposed to prepare the ground for a global grand bargain aimed at tackling the greatest challenge that humanity has faced.

Put starkly, Poznan must head off a collision between the energy systems that drive our economies, and the Earth's biosphere. Ambitious targets must be at the heart of any agreement. But we also need a new institutional architecture for cooperation between rich and poor countries.

If we are to have any chance of keeping global temperature increases below a 2C tipping point, greenhouse gas emissions will have to fall by over 50% by 2050. On current trends, they will rise by 50% by 2030. Such an outcome would lead to unprecedented reversals in human development in our lifetime followed in short order by ecological catastrophe for future generations. Economies can recover from a financial crisis. But there is no antidote or rewind button for global warming.

At Poznan, rich countries should be taking the lead. They need to signal a binding commitment to reducing their carbon footprint by at least 80%. More than that, they need to signal serious intent. Above all, that means closing the gap between climate change targets and energy policies.

The British government's carbon budget targets are ambitious. They are also inconsistent with current policies on renewable energy, the commissioning of coal-fired power stations, and another runway at Heathrow. The EU may have set carbon quota ceilings, but these are way above the targets set for cutting emissions.

President-elect Obama is inheriting a climate change policy bereft of credible targets or strategies.

Rich countries have the financial resources and technological capacity to make a rapid low-carbon transition: by putting a higher price on carbon emissions through taxation, quotas, and tougher regulatory standards, and developing and commercialising new technologies. Carbon capture and storage is a priority, yet neither the US nor the EU has gone beyond small-scale pilot projects.

Rich countries also need to lay the foundations for a new global compact with developing countries. It is not just that these countries are home to the populations most vulnerable to climate change. They also account for the bulk of the projected increase in CO2 emissions to 2030, with coal-fired economic growth in China and India the main driver.

Governments in Poznan need to put in place three foundations for a global deal. First, we need a plan of action on adaptation backed by increased aid. For millions of vulnerable people in drought-prone areas of Africa, flood zones in South Asia, and elsewhere, dangerous climate change is is happening now.

Second, developed countries need to reduce deforestation. Investments of $17-30bn annually could halve deforestation levels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

Third, the world needs a Marshall Plan for low-carbon financing and technology transfer. Scaling-up emissions trading must be part of that plan, alongside wider multilateral mechanisms. Covering the incremental costs of low carbon technologies for coal-fired power generation and renewable energy would give developing countries an incentive to join a global deal - and to decarbonise their energy systems.

The world cannot afford the type of shambolic display on show in Poznan. Over the past few months, rich governments have moved financial mountains to protect the integrity of their banking systems. What price the ecological integrity of our planet, the wellbeing of future generations, and our commitments to the world's poor?

Kevin Watkins, senior research fellow at Oxford University's global economic governance programme.