12 days of meeting and no clear roadmap from Bali?

Updated On: Dec 18, 2007

After 12 days of intense meetings with several tense moments, particularly on the last day (14 December), America and politics “triumphed” in Bali as a much watered-down agreement with no binding emissions cuts was produced.

The United States voiced "serious concerns" over a hard-fought deal fixing a 2009 deadline for a new treaty to tackle global warming and the White House complained that the agreement did not do enough to commit major emerging economies such as China and India to big cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House said any Kyoto successor treaty must acknowledge a country's sovereign right to pursue economic growth and energy security. US official statements added, the "United States does have serious concerns about other aspects of the decision as we begin the negotiations." "Empirical studies on emission trends in the major developing economies now conclusively establish that emissions reductions principally by the developed world will be insufficient to confront the global problem effectively."

The world then fought back. The US delegation to Bali was exposed to boos and hisses from other delegates and there were some strong words reserved for the Americans. Kevin Conrad, the negotiator from Papua New Guinea, rebuked the American delegation. “If for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us,” he said. “Please, get out of the way.”

While the US is the magnet for international criticism, an American is also the symbol of global environmental fight. In accepting his Nobel Prize, Al Gore warned that climate change is a "real, rising, imminent and universal" threat, that "our world is spinning out of kilter," the very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed. We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency — a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here." Europeans followed a path recommended by former Vice President Al Gore, fresh from receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. He advised Bali negotiators to look beyond the Bush administration, whose tenure ends in one year.

Gore told a packed conference room on the Indonesian island that he was no longer in office and "not bound by diplomatic niceties" at a key UN conference in Bali. "So I am going to speak an inconvenient truth," said Gore, referring to the climate film that won him an Oscar. "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali. We all know that," he said to loud applause. "But my country is not the only one that can take steps to ensure that we move forward from Bali with progress and with hope."

Gore urged the conference to be hopeful that the next president who succeeds Bush in 2009 will take action. "You can feel anger and frustration, and direct it at the United States of America. Or you can make a second choice, you can decide to move forward and do all of the difficult work that needs to be done and save a large open blank space in your document and put a footnote by it that says this document is incomplete." "Over the next two years, the United States is going to be somewhere it isn't right now. You must anticipate that," he said. "You ought to feel a sense of exhilaration that we are the people alive at a moment in history when we can make all the difference. That's who you are," said Gore, sweating as his voice rose.

The EU, angered by what it sees as US-led efforts to water down the final text, warned it would snub climate talks called by Bush next month in Hawaii if the Bali meeting collapsed. "If we would have a failure in Bali, it would be meaningless to have the major economies meeting," said Humberto Rosa, secretary of state for the environment from EU president Portugal.

An isolated US delegation had backed down during an unplanned 13th day of talks and  finally accepted the deal fixing a 2009 deadline for a new treaty to tackle global warming.   However, hours later as negotiators headed home, US President George W. Bush's administration came out to voice “serious concerns” over the provisions in the agreement that has just been inked.  The White House complained that the pact did not do enough to commit major emerging economies such as India and China to big cuts in greenhouse emissions. 

The US is not the only big power to resist European consensus on global environmental reductions. India and China had also voiced strong objections to “dictates” on  how developing countries should reduce their carbon emissions.  India wanted countries to set their own targets, allowing it to limit the impact of the regulations on its economy.

While China and other emerging powers did inch forward, agreeing for the first time to seek ways to make “measurable, reportable and verifiable” emissions cuts, they showed no signs of agreeing to any mandatory restrictions any time soon, saying their priority remained growing out of poverty.

The targets sought by Europe – including the need for rich countries to cut emissions by 2020 up to 40 percent below 1990 levels, and a 50 percent cut in emissions globally by 2050 – remained in the agreedBali framework. But with insistence from the US, they are now a footnote to the nonbinding preamble, and not a main feature of the action plan. While US attracted all the criticisms, one must not overlook that its position on the global environment is also shared by JapanCanada and Russia in many aspects.  Hence, success in the next two years towards a new treaty in 2009 may not be assured.  (17 December 2007)


US voices “serious concerns” over Bali climate pact (Straits Times, 17 December 2007)

ChinaIndia block UN climate deal (Nation, 16 December 2007)

Gored by a political truth (Japan Times, 16 December 2007)

Climate deal runs straight into trouble with US (Channelnewsasia, 16 December 2007)

Climate Plan Looks Beyond Bush’s Tenure (NYT, 16 December 2007)

Late Reversal by U.S. Yields Climate Plan (NYT, 16 December 2007)

U.N. chief appreciates China's active attitude on climate change (People’s Daily, 14 December 2007)

Al Gore urges divided UN climate meet to ignore US (Channelnewsasia, 13 December 2007)