The climate change conference in Bali is off to a contentious start even before it begins.
Ironically, critics take aim at the conference itself noting that, with more than 10,000 jet-setting to Indonesia's resort island of Bali, from ministers to Nobel laureates to drought-stricken farmer, these people are contributing to the very problem they aim to solve.
The scale of the conference have made them target of criticism since two massive climate conferences have been held in less than a month, first Valencia, Spain and now Bali. These two are in addition to numerous smaller gatherings in Bangkok, Paris, Vienna, Washington, New York and Sydney, and places like Rio de Janeiro, Anchorage, Helsinki and the Maldivian island of Kurumba.
The U.N. estimates 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants will be pumped into the atmosphere during the 12-day conference, mostly in flights but also from waste and electricity churned out by air conditioners at five-star hotels that line palm-fringed beaches.
Chris Goodall, author of the book 'How to Live a Low-Carbon Life' said, that would be equivalent to what a Western city of 1.5 million, like Marseilles, France, would emit in a day, though he believes the real figure will be twice that, more like 100,000 tons, close to what the African country, Chad, churns out in a year. On top of the waste generated by the conference, host Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world, averaging 300 football fields an hour.
To offset this criticism, Indonesia said it had planted 79 million trees across the archipelagic nation in the last few weeks. ``Our aim is not just to make this a carbon neutral event,'' Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said, ``but a positive one.'' 200 mountain bikes were offered to attendees so they could move around the conference site and green paper was also used for the gathering. These are already great leaps forward for a country still making a transition to a green environment.
Criticisms aside, the main issue at the Bali summit is for countries to make commitments for the “post-Kyoto” period after 2012 (The Kyoto Protocol committed 36 developed countries to reducing emissions of six greenhouse gases by around 5% below 1990 levels and this target must be met between 2008 and 2012). However, in the meetings from 3-14 December, various inter-related issues on climate change are likely to be raised – from the issue of deforestation and how to sort out a pay-and-preserve scheme (Forest Fund) and reward developing nations for keeping their forests; to the other mitigation programmes and also possibly the need to set up an adaptation fund to help poor countries in particular to adapt to climate change.
All eyes are on the battleground between the developed and developing world. Environmental groups are targeting developed countries like Japan and Canada which seems to be moving away from binding emissions targets for rich nations.
In another move that is sure to irk environmentalists, Japan has proposed that the Bali conference pursue a broad "least common denominator" approach to negotiating new controls on global-warming gases. "Is Japan scrapping the Kyoto Protocol on its 10th birthday?" asked Japanese environmentalist Kyoko Kawasaka. A Canadian colleague spoke of a "plot" by Japan and the United States to block a new Kyoto-style global agreement.
"There is a little concern about the positioning of Japan and Canada. Their proposals are really not building on the strengths of the Kyoto Protocol," said Angela Ledford Anderson, of the US-based National Environment Trust. She said Japan had revived the idea of a system whereby a country pledges to reduce emissions, and the international community reviews their progress, rather than committing to mandatory targets. "Most disturbing is that they think that will get the United States more engaged. Under this president, that would be correct, but ... this president will not be the one negotiating the final agreement," Angela said. This is a worry for environmental groups since the United States is currently the only industrialised nation not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and has rejected mandatory emissions cuts, advocating voluntary targets instead.
"It's clear to a number of us that the U.S. would like nothing more than for nothing to happen on the Kyoto track," said Canadian Steven Guilbeault, a leading environmentalist spokesman here. "They will let their Japanese colleagues do that." Asked Kawasaka, of Tokyo's environmentalist Kiko Network, "Is Japan trying to please the United States?" "Yes, of course," Hombu Kazuhiko, a Japanese delegation spokesman, said. "We don't want the U.S. out of the final decision-making. Our top priority is to start negotiations." Once that begins, he said, "we can add some more elements."
The rising spokesperson for the developing world is economic juggernaut China. China wants advanced economies to support funding for the dissemination of greenhouse gas-cutting technology in poor nations. "We want to see a substantial fund for technology transfers and development," said Zou Ji of the People's University of China in Beijing, a member of his country's delegation to Bali. Zou argued that a technology transfer body could pair government support with private investors, easing worries about commercial returns and intellectual property safeguards.
"There's been a lot of talk about developing and spreading clean coal-power and other emissions-cutting technology, but the results have been puny, and we want the new negotiations to show that developed countries are now serious about it." That fund could come under a "new body to promote technology transfers," he said, adding that it would take some time for negotiations to settle on specifics.
A senior Chinese climate change policy-maker, Gao Guangsheng, said that China's hopes for clean energy had been frustrated by foreign politicians' and companies' worries about intellectual property theft, foregone profits and sensitive technology. An influx of funds could underwrite joint research projects and help developing countries create their own energy-saving devices, said Zhang Haibin, an expert on climate change negotiations at Peking University. "The point is that we don't just want to buy fish. We want to learn how to fish for ourselves," Zhang said. "But if you want to keep selling fish for high prices, you won't teach me."
Even between advanced nations, battles are looming. The United States is the only industrial nation to have rejected Kyoto with President George W. Bush's administration citing such mandatory cutbacks would damage the U.S. economy, and that they should have been imposed on such poorer but fast-developing nations as China and India. Bush favors allowing each country to decide on voluntary, "bottom-up" reductions. The pro-Kyoto parties, on the other hand, led by the European Union, seek a "Bali roadmap" of talks that, by 2009, will produce a new deal requiring still-deeper reductions by richer nations after Kyoto expires in five years. Many also want commitments from China and others to slow the emissions growth of their booming economies.
Other disappointments for environmentalists include that fact that current talks in Bali on climate change will not decide to include support for the burying of greenhouse gases as part of a successor deal to the Kyoto Protocol, Yvo de Boer the U.N.'s top climate official said. But the talks may put the so-far unproven technology, carbon capture and storage, on the agenda for future backing, Yvo said. This is a controversial point for environmentalists because carbon capture technology is widely believed to be a crucial weapon without which emissions of the commonest man-made greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), may pass dangerous limits.
"I think there's still quite a lot of concern out there about carbon capture and storage," said de Boer. "I think more pilot projects have to be done, more analytical work has to be done really to convince the skeptics that this is a technology that can be safely applied." "It (the Bali talks) might put CCS on the agenda as one technology to be considered as part of a mitigation solution."
As negotiations are underway, one will have to wait till the conclusion of the UNFCCC summit on 14 December to assess the success or failure of the Bali meeting. (6 December 2007)
Haze to get worse over the years (Star, 5 December 2007)
10,000 participants add to greenhouse gas burden, critics say (AP, 5 December 2007)
Climate Change Meeting Adds to Emissions (AP, 5 December 2007)
Activists warn Japan and Canada blocking UN climate talks (AFP, 5 December 2007)
China wants climate talks to back technology fund (Reuters, 4 December 2007)
Japan proposal stirs environmentalist ire at Bali; 'Trying to please U.S.?' (AP, 5 December 2007)
Bali talks won't agree carbon capture: U.N. official (Reuters, 4 December 2007)
IPCC report to guide the hands of politicians (Straits Times, 1 December 2007)
Bali talks to seek global climate deal in 2009 (Antara, 2 December 2007)
3 yardsticks and a stumbling block in Bali (Today, 4 December 2007)
Saving rainforests a thorny issue at Bali talks (Antara, 5 December 2007)
Adaptation program necessary despite optimism about mitigation (Antara, 6 December 2007)