Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 17 December 2007

meeting will lead to more climate action

The United Nations’ climate conference ended dramatically in Bali last Saturday after the United States gave in to one last important point.  The work to implement its decisions will be intense as the world wakes up to the global warming crisis.     


The Bali Climate Change Conference concluded successfully one day late on Saturday afternoon after a dramatic day of events that at times saw tempers rising openly, and the direct intervention of the UN Secretary General and the Indonesian President to appeal to the countries to make a final deal.

In the end, the conference agreed to launch a “comprehensive process” to tackle a long list of issues, including how to mitigate (take preventive measures) and adapt to climate change, as well as provide the financial resources and technology to developing counties do so.

The Bali conference marked the fact that all the governments present accepted the scientific findings that global warming is “unequivocal” and that delay in reducing emissions increases the risk of more severe climate change impacts. 

At previous meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it was still being debated by a few governments whether climate change is really occurring or how serious it is.

The most significant result at Bali was the creation of a working group on long-term cooperative action to discuss a wide range of issues under the four “building blocks” of mitigation, adaptation, finance and investment, and technology transfer.

At least three controversial issues have been set aside for the time being, because there was no consensus, but are bound to re-appear when the working group starts working. 

The first is whether issues other than the four building blocks will be included in the agenda of group.  Many developed countries had proposed topics such as the further commitments of developing countries, a level playing field for economic competitiveness and energy security. 

These topics had been opposed by many developing countries as being either out of the mandate of the UNFCCC or as being not “mature” enough for negotiations.  At the group’s first meeting next March, which will establish its work programme, these new issues are bound to return through proposals of the developed countries.

The second is whether the new process will lead to a new “comprehensive” agreement, or whether it will strengthen the implementation of the existing treaties governing climate change -- the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol.

The developed countries made it clear they want to radically change or replace the Kyoto Protocol and even parts of the Convention.  The developing countries are deeply suspicious of this intention, as the two treaties are relatively friendly to them. 

Under these present treaties, the developing countries also commit to take measures to fight climate change but they are not obliged to undertake legally binding emission reduction targets, and their efforts are conditioned by the extent to which the developed countries provide finance and technology.

Throughout the two weeks’ talks in Bali, the United States, Japan, Canada, European Union and Russia continuously pressed the developing countries to take on binding or non-binding commitments. 

In the final outcome, there was no mention that the working group would come up with a new “agreement”, but the pressures to alter some of the basic tenets of the existing treaties will resume at the group.

Thirdly, the Bali document does not set a global target of reduction of Greenhouse Gases.  Originally a 50% global cut by 2050 was proposed, and later the phrase “well below half” was used.  But strong objections from the United States led to its removal, although a footnote refers to some related data from the intergovernmental panel on climate change.

One success on the final day was that the conference managed to pull in the United States to agree to take (or at least discuss) its own emission reduction commitment under the UNFCCC umbrella, although it had pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol (which is where the legally-binding targets for emission reduction by developed countries are set).

The Bali outcome says that all developed countries have to make mitigation commitments or actions (including emission reduction objectives), while ensuring comparable efforts among them.  This is much weaker than what everyone else wanted the US to do, but the US had objected to even this weak language until hours before the Conference’s end.

Another important result is that developing countries have agreed to take “nationally appropriate mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development, supported by technology and enabled by financing in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.”

As one Minister stated at the closing, it is the first time developing countries have made this commitment.  They insisted however in including that their efforts must be accompanied by finance and technology assistance from developed countries, and that this (together with the developing countries’ mitigation actions) be also measurable and verifiable.         

These two paragraphs were so problematic that the Bali meeting had to be extended an extra day.  When the US objected to a proposed change by India and the G77 and China that clarified that finance and technology provision also be made measurable and verifiable, the final session continued to be held back.

A plea by many countries to the US to agree was dramatised by Papua New Guinea, which told the US delegation:  “Either take the lead or get out of the way!”

In the end, the US gave in, and the Bali conference could end rather successfully.  No country got from Bali what it really wanted, but no one was forced to take on something it found unacceptable. 

But many of the battles that were fought here were not settled and the ball is now in the feet of the new working group.  It will meet in March/April 2008 and three other times next year and will finish its work in 2009.

Developing countries should now upgrade their research and negotiating capacity to take on the challenge of their new commitments and to be able to negotiate properly in the working group.