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The politics of climate change – hot air or cool solutions?

Updated On: Dec 12, 2007

Is the Bali conference on the environment all hype or are its goals achievable?

A preview of what would happen at the Bali conference on climate change had shaped up even before the arrival of Ministers attending the High-Level segment, especially with the differences brewing amongst delegates.  The biggest stumbling block to any hope that a bold new road map will emerge from the Bali talks is the issue over binding emission targets.   Many, especially the Europeans, want to see Chinaand other major emerging economies take steps to curtail the increase in their emissions. The European Union and others are seeking a post-Kyoto agreement that would mandate much deeper reductions by industrial nations in carbon dioxide and other such emissions from power plants, factories, vehicles and other sources.  However, industrial nations such as the US, Japan and Australia balked at mandatory emissions cuts while emerging economies such as China and India have said any measures impinging on their booming economies and efforts to lift their people from poverty were unacceptable.

So, despite all the dire warnings of the impact of global warming – islands nations being wiped out of existence, extinction of species, global civil war, rise in diseases, water shortage, etc – the nations do not appear close to any agreement on how to control emissions in an equitable and effective way. 

The UN officials to the conference are putting on a brave front. Before wrapping up what he described as a busy week of talks, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer spoke of a "strong willingness" by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for an outcome at the conference. Yvo de Boer urged and explained that the two-week conference needs to deliver on ongoing issues of particular importance to developing countries, moving forward on adaptation, transfer of technology and deforestation, as well as strengthening capacity-building.

Yvo de Boer had to concede that no final deal on a future climate regime will be concluded at Bali, and that the goal is to launch negotiations and set an end date for conclusion of the negotiations. Another challenged conceded by Yvo de Boer is that current funds under the Convention and the Protocol are insufficient to meet their environmental goals, but that the gap can be bridged by scaling up currently available international capital dedicated to climate-friendly investments. The challenge is "huge, but not insurmountable," he said.

Even UN Chief Ban Ki-moon does not expect world leaders to reach a new global agreement to succeed the 1997 Kyoto accord to combat global warming which expires in 2012, U.N. spokeswoman Montas said. But Ban expects the meeting of parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change "to agree to an agenda of issues and set a timetable for reaching such an accord, before the Kyotoprotocol expires," U.N. spokeswoman said. "He wants to maximize the prospects for the launch of climate change negotiations," Montas said.

Finances and monetary issues, however, remain on many of the delegates’ minds. Victims of climate change, real and potential, appealed for a vast increase in international aid to protect them from and compensate them for rising seas, crop-killing drought and other likely impacts of global warming. The "Adaptation Fund," being developed under U.N. climate agreements to enable poorer countries to adjust to a warmer world, has thus far drawn only a mere $67 million for a task the World Bank estimates will cost tens of billions of dollars a year.

Yvo de Boer, told reporters he hoped it was possible that this meeting would finally make the fund operational, "so that perhaps in as little as a year before real resources for adaptation can begin to flow to developing countries." The fund is expected to finance climate-change projects ranging from sea walls to guard against expanding oceans, to improved water supplies for drought areas, to training in new agricultural techniques. The fund is financed by a 2-percent levy on revenues generated by the Clean Development Mechanism, the program whereby industrial nations pay for "carbon credits" produced by emissions-reduction projects in the developing world — credits then counted against reduction targets at home.

Not everything was uncertain for the environment. New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed the paperwork to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, making good on an election promise to overturn Australia's decade-long opposition to the international global warming pact. This is an important gesture because while Australia's overall contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions maybe small compared to the US, it is one of the largest polluters per capita.  "This is the first official act of the new Australian Government, demonstrating my government's commitment to tackling climate change," Rudd said in a statement issued hours after he was officially sworn in.

Smaller projects such as the pact between the six governments of the Coral Triangle - IndonesiaMalaysiaPapua New Guinea, Timor Leste, the Philippines and Solomon Islands – have established a new partnership to conserve 5.7 million square km of coral reefs and fisheries. A 10-year programme to save endangered orang utans from extinction has also been revealed by Indonesia.

While such small steps and individual projects are important contributions to mitigating the impact of climate change, the bigger issue of defining environmental goods and services and who should pay for emissions need to be sorted out for a global agreement that would bind nations beyond the Kyoto Protocol.  (11 December 2007)

Sources:

Countries balk at binding emission targets (Straits Times, 11 December 2007)

Bali Quickly (Straits Times, 11 December 2007)

Bali conference on track for breakthrough in global action on climate change (Xinhua, 9 Dec 2007)

At Bali conference, climate change victims say aid falls short (USA today/AP, 10 Dec 2007)

Gore and UN climate scientist meet Norwegian leaders, media before Nobel peace prize ceremony (AP/Jakarta Post, 9 Dec 2007)

2 young environmentalists to participate in Bali conference (Channelnewsasia, 7 Dec 2007)

Bali activists blast excessive security measures (Jakarta Post, 6 Dec 2007)

At Bali conference, climate change victims note aid is tiny fraction of needs (Jakarta Post/AP, 4 Dec 2007)

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signs paperwork to ratify Kyoto Protocol (AP, Jakarta Post, 3 Dec 2007)

UN chief wants Bali climate change conference to launch negotiations fior new accord (AP, 13 Nov 2007)