Well, the Bali round of UN climate change talks is over, and the results are a mixed bag. For most of the conference it looked as though no agreement would be reached, as the EU and others insisted on a commitment to emission cuts of 25-40%, while the US resisted those, claiming that would be jumping the gun on later talks. Neither looked prepared to back down. In the end the EU did, and we have a treaty with no commitment to cuts. The treaty amounts to little more than an agreement to talk again, but it is still a treaty which everyone has signed, and that in itself is a first.
Despite dragging their feet and then almost immediately backtracking, the US has signed on. Perhaps being booed by the whole conference had something to do with it, or being berated by the delegation from Papua New Guinea. Either way, this is a global consensus, and that’s what we needed. For those countries leading the way, a global consensus that basically amounts to ‘climate change is something we need to talk about’ might seem woefully late and inadequate, but you’ve got to start somewhere. It’s what happens next that matters.
What does happen next is further rounds of talks, culminating in Copenhagen in 2009. That will hopefully result in a treaty to replace the Kyoto agreement. Kyoto expires in 2012, so countries will have three years to ratify the Copenhagen document in their own governments before it comes into effect. As we saw with Kyoto and the US, assent at the UN level may not translate to actual participation, so the talks could derail at any stage. Already the US are keen to make clear that they are unhappy about the emissions of developing countries, China and India being the most obviously contentious. Japan, Canada and Russia don’t plan to accept cuts as high as 25-40%.
In short, we either have a historic moment, or a missed opportunity, depending on who you talk to. Personally, I’m somewhere between the two – a weak and cowardly agreement with a full complement of signatures is better than a robust and forward-thinking treaty nobody dares to sign. But here’s what some other people said:
“The United States is very committed to this effort and just wants to really ensure we all act together.”
Paul Dobrianksky, head of US delegation
“The US delegation in particular proved a major obstacle to progress. They appeared to operate a wrecking policy, as though determined to derail the whole process.”
Nelson Muffuh, Christian Aid
“The Bush Administration has unscrupulously taken a monkey wrench to the level of action on climate change that science demands.”
Gerd Leopold, Greenpeace
“This is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward. For the first time ever all the world’s nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change.”
Hilary Benn, UK Environment Secretary
“Hilary Benn is an idiot. Our diplomats are suckers… cheering and waving their hats as the train leaves the station at last, having failed to notice that it is travelling in the wrong direction.”
George Monbiot, writer and activist
“Despite falling a long way short of what is required, it keeps alive hope that we can still get ourselves out of the mess we have created. ”
Tony Juniper, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth