As scientists suggested that the summer Arctic ice could melt completely as early as 2013 and the waves may be soon rolling in on the Queensland coast as the Great Barrier Reef crumbles (see also Quiggin) tempers flared in Bali.
At one point the chief UN climate negotiator, Yvo de Boer, left the room apparently in tears, but the turning point, the circuit breaker, came from the representative of PNG who looked the US representative Paula Dobriansky in the eye and told her ”If for some reason you are unwilling to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way!” She then “reversed herself, allowing the adoption of the so-called ‘Bali Roadmap.’”
Hard on the conclusion of the talks most capitals were putting a positive spin on the outcomes. Not so the US. They issued a communiqué expressing serious concerns about the Bali deal. Considering they got most of what they were looking for at Bali, what’s the beef?
From the outset that the US had an aversion to specifics and numbers. This from Der Spiegel:
Numbers, the US negotiating team has made clear, are an anathema; head US negotiator Harlan Watson said: “Once numbers appear in the text, it predetermines outcomes and it can really drive negotiations in one direction.”
So the 2020 targets of 25-40% cuts for the developed countries were tossed out. So were on this report any reference to 2050 targets and even the need for emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years. Apparently references to the IPCC and the science were also thrown out at the behest of the USA. What’s left is a reference to the notion that “deep cuts will be required to achieve the ultimate objective” of avoiding dangerous climate change.
The final frustration was that the rich countries, including the EU, were only willing to make vague references to help and support the poor countries in the form of money and technology in return for limiting their emissions. India put forward an amendment firming up this point which the US, to comprehensive booing from the floor, rejected. The EU, to cheers, accepted it. Then it seems each developing country in turn made a speech attacking the US directly to cheers from the floor. When the PNG representative made his direct attack as detailed above the US got the point that they were fast becoming pariahs without any further prospect of any influence at all. Everyone had simply had enough. They accepted, the chair hit the desk with the gavel and declared the deal done.
What we have then is a road map with no defined destination. The Climate Institute described it as “a rough and risky road”. It’s a plan for two more years of talks with further full UNFCCC meetings in Poland in December 2008 and finally in Copenhagen in December 2009. As one poor country representative said, that much could have been achieved by email without the time and trouble of Bali. Ostensibly the US agreed to quantifiable and binding targets being set at the end of that process. The problem is that no-one trusts them. The UNFCCC would do well to move the Poland conference to February or March 2009. Better to waste a couple of months and get the Bushistas out of the way.
Strangely enough there is apparent sense in the US concerns.
Firstly, they say that cutting rich country emissions without likewise action on the part of major developing countries will not fix the problem. That’s fine, but here they seem to be calling for cuts by China, India etc rather than limits. This is problematic and won’t fly at this stage.
The second and third points relate to the need to differentiate between the larger developing country economies and the need to take into account the circumstances of each country. This looks like the bleeding obvious and it’s hard to see how this was not included in the EU approach.
The statement then asserts the primacy of economic growth and access to secure energy supplies far all countries. This is a seductive motherhood statement but implies that the planet is not threatened to the degree that we may have to inconvenience ourselves in terms of economics and consumption.
Finally they refer their willingness to participate in the necessary discussions, making particular reference to the “Major Economies Process” which is really the continuation of Bush’s bash, the first of which was in September and the next in Hawaii in January.
I think there are two problems coming out of the Bali meeting. The meeting itself did what frequently happens in difficult trade negotiations. The differences are unresolved, but a form of words is found that can be spun either way to home constituencies. Both sides live to fight another day.
The first position is the European way of regulations, rationing, the redistribution of resources to assist the needy and mandatory caps with penalties for failure. It is wrong to say that the circumstances of each nation cannot be recognised and accommodated within this approach. The EU has committed itself unilaterally to cuts of 20-40% by 2020, but within that I think you’ll find there will be provision for the emissions of some countries (eg Poland) to actually grow.
The American position is open and flexible, based on co-operation between the main players with voluntary self-imposed targets and no penalties.
The second problem is that the Americans demonstrated once again that they do not negotiate in good faith. They made some soothing noises to Angela Merkel in the G8 to fob her off. Then in Bali they tried their favourite strategy of rapidly changing stances to confuse their opponents and of springing nasty surprises at the death.
In this case at 4 am on Friday morning when the conference was due to end 13 hours later (after a bit of time for kip before breakfast) the suddenly put forward a proposed text that:
abandoned the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities” for the developed and developing world, a key basis on which the Kyoto Protocol was founded.” (Article in the Weekend AFR).
This had to be premeditated act and curiously seems to run counter to what they were spruiking in their ‘serious concerns’ communiqué. It is typical of control freaks and bullies who can’t accept an idea that was not their own in the first place. It makes it fairly pointless to sit down with such people. If you do you need to keep counting your fingers and looking under the table. That’s what our Penny Wong had to put up with and the fact that there was a half-passable outcome is in no small measure due to her.
Incidentally Australia got off the fence and supported the 25-40% cuts. As reported at GreensBlog this may have been due to the Opposition’s Greg Hunt giving them the green light. Wonders will never cease, but we may have the prospect of considerable bipartisanship between the major parties.
I’m not entirely sure, but the 2020 targets may have survived as a ‘for instance’ in a footnote in the preamble.
My own view is that some reconsideration of targets is necessary. The 50% by 2050 and the 2020 targets were Europe’s response to the IPCC. Since then there have been worrying developments including the sudden drop in Arctic ice cover and the decline in the planet’s ability to absorb CO2 (10% this century). I’m inclined to agree with James Lovelock who said recently the stabilisation of the climate at just less than 2C warming may be possible in the modellers’ computers, but impossible in the world at large.
For example, two degrees of cooling below pre-industrial levels is likely to start the rebuilding of continental ice sheets. With a warming of 2.8C in Greenland (that happens at 1.4C for the world in general) it is thought that the Greenland ice sheet will start to seriously break up. Now we are at 0.75C with a further 0.5 system in the system. The climate changes observed now do not correspond to today’s CO2 levels but to the levels that prevailed about 30 years ago. It takes that long for the effects to play out through the system. In that time the temperature has risen about 0.6 degrees.
The rational conclusion from observations and science is that things started to become dangerously unstable about half a century ago. We need to restore the Arctic ice cap. The only study I know that has come near considering the full implications of recent research and observations is the Carbon Equity Project’s The big melt. It recommends that we should be aiming at emissions of 320 ppm CO2e and a temperature of 0.5C above pre-industrial levels.
When you think about it the difference between the last glacial maximum and an ice-free world (in summer) is only about 10C. The corresponding difference in sea levels is close to 200 metres. We are about 120 m up from 20,000 years ago with a possible 70 m or so to go. Pre-industrially we started off in the sweetest spot, the upper side of the 2C band in the middle where things were reasonably stable. It’s worth considering how we can get back there.