By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Coal-reliant Poland can be seen as a developing nation, making it apt to lead EU negotiations at Durban climate talks, where one of the disputes is over the roles of rich versus poor nations, a member of the Polish team said.
Holder of the rotating EU presidency, Poland has been criticized for its environmental stance within the EU, which is seeking to lead the push for a new global pact to curb climate change.
Many have asked whether it is the right country to represent the EU in Durban, regarded as make-or-break for the Kyoto Protocol, the only global, binding pact to counter global warming.
"We understand the different positions from different countries. We are also a kind of developing country," Joanna Mackowiak-Pandera, undersecretary of state in the Polish environment ministry, told Reuters by telephone before her flight to Durban.
Winning confidence is particularly important for the EU when its sovereign debt crisis has left the rest of the world doubting the ability of the bloc as a whole to take a lead.
"It's a fact that the current economic situation and uncertainty will affect the negotiations," Mackowiak-Pandera said.
"We should really take a long-term vision. I know how difficult that is. The economic situation in Europe is critical. Many countries outside Europe look at the situation in Europe and maybe there is a lack of trust."
The EU's aim at Durban is to maintain pressure for a new deal no later than 2015, although that leaves a so-called blank period after the first commitment to carbon cuts expires at the end of 2012.
Mackowiak-Pandera said there had been progress in working groups in Durban this week ahead of next week's crucial ministerial phase, but there was no "comprehensive text on the table for a second commitment period."
Forging a new deal is a mammoth task.
"My assessment of the situation is very critical," Mackowiak-Pandera said, citing Canada's failure to deny reports it was preparing to abandon the Kyoto Protocol.
Together with Russia, Japan and the United States, Canada has made clear it no longer supports the Kyoto Protocol, but formally abandoning it would be a bigger step.
In previous climate talks, China has also been grouped with the so-called boulder nations seen as barriers to progress.
The EU, however, has hopes China can break the deadlock between rich and poor nations, who want the developed world to carry on bearing the brunt of the financial cost of adapting to climate change.
As a developing nation, China was not included in the first round of Kyoto cuts agreed in 1997. Since then China has leapfrogged developed nations in terms of emissions and its economy.
Mackowiak-Pandera said the Chinese were "open to discussing a second commitment period" and had several meetings planned with them in Durban.
She saw a need for a realistic pace of progress to allow all nations to adapt.
"The tempo of increasing reduction targets has to be appropriate," she said.
Poland drew sharp criticism when, earlier this year, it blocked EU plans to raise its goal for reducing carbon emissions. At 20 percent by 2020, it already exceeds the bloc's commitment under the Kyoto Protocol.
"Poland is 90 percent dependent on coal. Everybody knows it. For us, 20 percent is ambitious," Mackowiak-Pandera said.
"The 20 percent reflects the different positions of the different EU countries. It is a legally binding and realistic target. If some countries want, they will do more."
Adaptation for all had to be a major discussion Mackowiak-Pandera said, as even European countries such as Poland coped with low river levels and water shortages.
In addition to adaptation finance, nations needed practical planning on measures including river basin management.
"Maybe in 10, 20, 30 years we will see the effects of a (carbon) reduction. For adaptation, that is something we can see in five years," she said.