Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 10 December 2007

Eventful start to Bali’s climate meeting

The United Nations’ climate conference has completed an eventful week in which many issues including technology transfer were discussed.  This week it will culminate with many decisions, the most important being how to move ahead in the next two years.


The United Nations conference on climate change has just finished an exciting and eventful week in Bali.  The most vital part is yet to come – the “high level segment” in which the Ministers of Environment will attend and take centre stage, before the

closing on Friday.

Last week’s hard work among government officials and diplomats covered a wide range of issues.  Groups have been formed to hammer out decisions on how to progress or proceed on these issues.

The Bali meetings comprise the conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the meeting of the Kyoto Protocol, and meetings of their two subsidiary bodies (on science and on implementation of decisions already taken).

A common complaint of the developing countries is that the developed countries have inadequately met their commitments to provide financing, and they have not at all kept their promise on transfer of environmentally sound technology to the developing world.

Malaysia and the Philippines proposed to the Group of 77 and China (which represents the developing countries) that the technology issue be taken up by the subsidiary body in charge of implementation, so that a review can be done on the progress of technology transfer and plans be put forward so that progress can be made on actual transfers. 

Previously only the subsidiary body on science has discussed this issue, including in an expert group on technology chaired by Malaysia’s former director-general of Meteorological Services Mr. Chow Kok Kee.

While useful guidelines have been issued, there has been no actual flow of technology.

Malaysia thus proposed that this issue be also discussed at the implementation group.

When the G77 made this proposal, it was initially accepted by the main plenary, but when the issue was taken up by the subsidiary body on implementation, some of the developed countries tried to prevent it from being on the agenda and later from starting a “contact” group to work towards an action decision.

Only after a five hour fight did the G77 countries succeed in overcoming the objections.  But the battle and the evident reluctance especially of the United States and Japan to have this issue discussed revealed how difficult it will be facilitate technology flows.

This is a key issue.  If developing countries are to take climate change seriously, they have to alter the mix of energy they use, and revamp their technologies in industry, building design, transport system, and so on.

There will soon be pressures for countries to curb their Greenhouse Gas emissions – either in absolute terms or in slowing their growth. But developing countries can continue on their economic and social development growth path only if they have access to new technologies at affordable cost.

Will the rich North take their commitment seriously and relax the conditions of patents on some of these technologies, and thus make the cost more affordable and also allow developing countries to make the new carbon-free or low-carbon machinery? 

The G77 and China proposed that a technology fund be set up, to be financed by developed countries.  That can pay for the license fees for patented technology that developing countries should switch to.  It can also pay for joint research and development activities.  There will be a major battle this week to get the developed countries to agree to this.

The biggest issue for the Ministers to decide on is whether the UNFCCC should set up a new working group to negotiate a range of issues to meet a 2009 deadline.  While all

agree that climate talks must be accelerated in view of the new data on how deep the crisis is, there is disagreement on what are the priority issues and what are the respective roles of different countries.

The developing countries believe that the developed countries must agree to commit to their taking deeper cuts in emissions in the period starting 2013.  The range of 25-40 per cent cut by 2020 has been mentioned.  The developing countries also want the developed countries to fulfill their commitments to adequately provide finance and technology, and for concrete measures to be agreed on.

The Europeans, who are taking the lead among the developed countries, agree to commit to deep cuts for the North, but they (like everyone else) face the giant problem of how to draw in the United States, which so far has refused to join the Kyoto Protocol.

All the developed countries are also insisting that the developing countries (or the more

“advanced” among them) should make some commitments, even if it is not of the binding emission reduction sort.  But it is difficult to determine which of the developing countries are “advanced” as there is no agreed criteria.

What then are the contributions that developing countries can offer to make, without sacrificing their development potential?  This is a difficult question to answer, as the economics of responding to the climate challenge has yet to be developed.

Malaysia argued in one session that the latest data on climate science has been agreed to, but time is needed to work out the implications of the climate change reality for economic policy. 

Whatever final decisions are taken next week, it is clear that each country has to develop national plans to respond to the climate challenge, and that such a plan must primarily involve each Ministry and department.

The fight against climate change is no longer only an environmental matter, but is now

primarily an economic policy issue, and one that involves energy, infrastructure, industry, transport, construction, households, services, water supply, agriculture.  And last but not least, a change in lifestyles.