Thursday, December 27, 2007

United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali

Unless you've been living under a rock or in a cave, you have probably heard about the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali which wrapped up about two weeks ago. I thought a summary was in order in case you are interested in the conference and its outcomes.

Eleven thousand participants and representatives from 187 countries met in Bali to discuss the way forward given the urgency of climate change and the upcoming expiry of the Kyoto protocol. That reminds me, I've been meaning to mention that Australia elected a new prime minister while we were in India. Kevin Rudd will replace George W's buddy, John Howard after 11 years in office. Rudd promptly signed the Kyoto protocol after using environmental issues as part of his platform. Lets hope the US takes a similar turn in November 08!

Okay, back to Bali. Most countries wanted to work towards a new global treaty on climate change as well as new targets for carbon emissions by wealthy countries. But in the middle of the conference, the US, Japan and Canada teamed up to undermine the talks by objecting to any targets for rich countries to reduce their emissions. The US blocked the summit consensus, and when a smaller group of Kyoto treaty countries tried to move ahead without the US, they were blocked by Canada (which had signed the Kyoto protocol).

So what happened? The world spoke out and the largest joint climate petition in history was delivered thanks to the efforts of nearly a dozen major environmental organizations with a total of over 2,600,000 voices for climate action.


The deadline for the conference was extended 24 hours - Japan gave in quickly to the consensus, but the US and Canada held out. Then under pressure from all sides and massive domestic anger, the Canadian government finally did a complete U-turn, and allowed the smaller group of Kyoto countries to agree to reduce carbon emissions by 25-40% by 2020.

The US, now completely isolated, still held out. In the final general session, a compromise proposal was suggested that was accepted by every delegation. The United States took the floor -- and rejected it. The assembled delegations let loose a chorus of boos. Finally, the US agreed to join the consensus.

Every nation of the world has now agreed that they will enter into accelerated negotiations and, by 2009, sign a new treaty to confront global warming. This treaty needs to set binding global targets for carbon emissions, and a mechanism for meeting them, that will keep the earth's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees celsius - the amount that scientists say would be 'catastrophic'. This treaty must focus on clean energy sources - which reminds me (depressingly, this time) that an energy bill was just passed in the US that ultimately excluded a national renewable electricity standard and a tax structure that would have transferred money from oil industry profits into the renewable energy sector. So much for any significant US government support for renewable energy in the near future.

Note, there is not yet a treaty with binding global targets but we're on the right track. Negotiations will continue until 2009 and hopefully will be ready to enter into force by 2013, following the expiry of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol. The agenda for the key issues to be negotiated up to 2009 includes: action for adapting to the negative consequences of climate change, such as droughts and floods; ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries; ways to widely deploy climate-friendly technologies and financing both adaptation and mitigation measures.

So there you have it. Some good news and some bad news in a terribly oversimplified format from someone who wasn't there :)

If you're still reading this and care to know more or show your support for issues that will affect you and perhaps more importantly your children and grandchildren, well there's a lot you can do. Let your representatives know that you want independence from foreign oil and that the US should invest in domestic clean energy sources (and education and health care, for that matter!). And if all you have time for is armchair activism, then I encourage you to join Avaaz, a rapidly expanding organisation for social and environmental action.

Not the end. Thanks for reading.

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