Bali Climate Conference

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 51

December 23, 2007

USA 2, Rest Of The World 0

Bali Climate Conference



SO, yet another international conference on climate
change, this time in the scenic Indonesian island of Bali, has come to an end
without anything to show for it except a decision to meet again. This despite
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have gone up by more than 11 percent since the
first global meet in Rio in 1991 and despite the Kyoto Treaty having come into
effect mandating a 5 percent reduction of emissions by 36 industrialised
countries. And despite the stark warning contained in the recently released
report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), endorsed even by
governments the world over, that GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are on the
verge of causing irreversible, probably catastrophic, climate change that could
endanger all human life on earth.


This Conference of Parties (COP 13) under the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change, attended by 190 countries, was expected
to take serious note of these scientific findings and the consequent
recommendations for immediate action to stabilise and then reduce emissions,
steps that are essential to save the planet and, in the short term, save vast
numbers of humankind especially the poor from all manners of deprivations. Bali
was important also because its main agenda was to commence negotiations for
framing emission reduction targets during the next and decisive phase of the
Kyoto Treaty commencing 2012. Given the context of the latest IPCC report, and
the miserable compliance of the advanced capitalist countries with the Kyoto
targets in the first phase, there had been widespread expectations that the Bali
Conference would work out decisive measures.  


But nothing of the kind happened. Instead, the
Conference was derailed by an intransigent US. Once again, as during the very
framing of the Kyoto Treaty, when the US forced concession after concession as a
price for staying on board but after securing the maximum dilution possible
cynically refused to ratify it, the US ensured that nothing substantive emerged
except high-sounding platitudes that it has no intention of honouring. And once
again, various dignitaries and heads of delegations, including India’s own
minister for science & technology Kapil Sibal, declared that the Conference had
been a “breakthrough” because the US had at least come on board. The US has once
again played its familiar blackmailing tactics of No Treaty with Me, No Treaty
without Me. US 2, Rest of the World Nil.


No targets,
no progress


For the record, COP 13 adopted a so-called roadmap, an
outline and set of ideas that would ostensibly guide the negotiation process
that will ultimately lead to a post-2012 agreement. For all the wrangling over
words, phrases and punctuation marks, the Bali roadmap is worded vaguely enough
so that any nations can interpret it their own way in the months to come. At
least, the Conference at least set a timeframe for reaching agreement by 2009 in
COP 15 at Copenhagen.

The Bali roadmap mercifully does takes cognizance of
“findings of IPCC that climate change is unequivocal and delay in reducing
emissions will damage efforts and increase impact of climate change,” therefore
decides to launch a process that would include “a long-term global goal for
emission reductions” and also recognises that “deep cuts in emissions will be
required”.  But crucially, and perhaps the most cruel outcome of the Bali
“success” was the fact that, no targets were set or even broadly outlined for
emission reductions. Indeed there was no mention even of binding targets, a
concept that the US under the Bush administration plainly abhors. Inaugurating
the Conference, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had implored the delegates to
choose the right direction, saying “one path leads to a comprehensive climate
change agreement, the other to oblivion.” Why the Bali declaration is being
hailed by some quarters is a mystery!


While the EU was pushing aggressively for at least
mentioning if not mandating an emissions reduction target for developed
countries of 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels, a target also contained in a UN
Draft in Bali, severe US pressure ensured that no numbers were mentioned. Even a
compromise to mention some numbers in footnotes was rejected by the US. Finally,
the dubious device was adopted of the Conference Declaration including a
footnote simply making reference to certain sections (pages 39 and 90 of the
Technical Summary of Working Group III) of the Fourth Assessment Report of the


It is worthwhile briefly recalling the relevant
conclusions of the IPCC, finalised after many months of discussions and peer
review of published material by the world’s scientists and endorsed by all


The IPCC Report asserts that the setting of emission
reduction targets is “… an important element of any climate agreement… Goal
setting also helps structure commitments and institutions, provides an incentive
to stimulate action and helps establish criteria against which to measure the
success in implementing measures.”


As to the targets themselves, based on detailed
calculations and climate modeling with over 90 per cent accuracy, the Report
states that in order to contain temperature rise to within about 2.5 degrees
Celsius (a terrible enough prospect estimated to result, among other horrors, in
rising sea levels inundating many islands and vast coastal areas, and drop in
foodgrain output in India by 30-40 per cent), global emissions “should decline
before 2015 and be further reduced to less than 50 per cent of today’s emissions
by 2050” (AR4/WG3 p.39-40). Also, “developed countries as a group would need to
reduce their emissions significantly by 2020 (10-40 per cent below 1990 levels)
and to still lower levels by 2050 (40-95 per cent) for low to medium
stabilisation levels.” (AR4/WG3 p.90) 


Roadmap Signposts


The Bali
roadmap does, however, contain some signage that may indicate the direction in
which most national delegations think and mark out the lines along which
negotiations are likely to proceed in the months to come.         


One of the most challenging issues before the
Conference, again foregrounded by the US, was whether developing countries or at
least the larger ones should also reduce emissions from present levels. The
Conference reiterated the Kyoto principle of “common but differentiated
responsibility” wherein all nations should take on responsibility for checking
climate change but those with historical responsibility for most of the problem,
that is the industrialised countries who have contributed roughly 80 per cent of
accumulated GHGs in the atmosphere, should take on most of the burden now. This
is reflected in the Bal roadmap which calls for “measurable, reportable and
verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation actions, including
quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives” (the italicised phrase
added upon US insistence to provide it an excuse for going its own way later) by
all developed countries, but omits quantified reductions for developing
countries “in the context of sustainable development, supported by technology
and enabled by financing and capacity-building.”


Much is being made, including by the Indian
delegation, of this phraseology which is being projected as a victory for
developing countries. Fact is, it is only a reiteration of earlier principles
and does not mean that pressure will not continue to be applied on large
developing nations such as China and India to take substantive measures.


It should be noted that the declaration does not
include any language on the accountability of developed countries for quantified
emission reductions and, of course, the issue of penalties for default was never
even raised. Significant also, especially for China and India, is the fact that
the clause on developing countries does not say “all” as it does in the case of
developed countries, leaving the door open for some differentiation later among
groups of developing countries.   


Deforestation was another major issue at Bali, with
the IPCC having recorded that measures to prevent further deforestation in
tropical countries could help reduce emissions by as much as 20 per cent. Brazil
led a strong rearguard action to ward off what it perceived could be unilateral
diktats on it and other similar states to protect forests for the benefit of the
world at its own economic and developmental cost. The Bali declaration therefore
spoke of the need to adopt “policy approaches and positive incentives” to check
deforestation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.




There has also been much unjustified hype about the
Bali conference having agreed to financially assist developing countries in
adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. Adaptation is of course a
major concern and, in the tortuous process of international climate
negotiations, at one stage threatened to overshadow emission reductions as the
major goal, until the full severity of the crisis was acknowledged and it was
recognized that prevention should be the prime focus even while remedial action
received due attention. The Bali Conference saw the so-called launch of an
Adaptation Fund. It is not clear where any money for it will come from, since
the US blocked a proposal for “ensuring sufficient, predictable, additional and
sustainable financial resources” for adaptation. The Adaptation Fund itself was
set up many years ago with a percentage of fund transfers from the Clean
Development Mechanism (CDM) supposed to come into it. Numerous companies and
many countries including India have benefited substantially from the CDM but no
money has ever been contributed to the Adaptation Fund, exposing the CDM as just
another money-spinning scheme for corporates.


The decision in Bali may have the same zero outcome.
The Declaration is full of appeals to “Parties who can to contribute” basing the
entire system on voluntarism. And although different Working Groups at Bali
recommended that fund disbursals be done by the UNFCCC, there is little to
suggest that in practice the Adaptation Fund will be administered in an open and
transparent manner. Experience with CDM and other funds now administered by the
Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been that the system is opaque, dominated
by the developed North and a plethora of international bureaucrats and
consultants. That the Fund is to be administered by the GEF with the World Bank
as Trustee, even if only provisionally, is a matter of further concern.   


The Indian media has been full of laudatory reportage,
no doubt resulting from official releases and spin, about India’s role at Bali
especially on protecting developing countries from binding targets and in
forcing improved measures for technology transfer from developed countries.
While the former was never seriously in doubt, the latter has been over-hyped.


The Indian stance gained some publicity, albeit little
in the international press, when the penultimate plenary session was suspended
because India pressed for an amendment to strengthen the technology transfer
clause. The US delegation led by Under Secretary of State Paula J Dobriansky
objected, thus disrupting the consensus governing UNFCCC decisions, and setting
off loud booing by the delegates. More than the Indian stance, it was the angry
demand of the delegate from tiny Papua New Guinea, beamed on TV worldwide,  that
shamed the US into withdrawing its objection: “We seek your leadership, but if
for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please
get out of the way.”


In fact this was just typical US roughneck tactics and
the clause adopted is still only words. In an Annex to the Recommendations of
the Subsidiary Body on Science & Technology, it is recommended that Parties
“avoid trade and intellectual rights policies, or lack thereof, restricting
transfer of technology,” putting corporates in developed countries holding
monopoly over knowledge on a par with developing nations and the people of the
world requiring such planet-saving technology, and running away from the need to
remove IPR restrictions from climate-related technologies.


Back to
Square One


In a sense, global climate negotiations are back where
they began more than a decade and a half ago. All the old issues are up for
debate once again. How much of a cap should be placed on emissions, who should
do what, who will pay for technologies and adaptation, and how? Concerted public
campaigns to build greater and more pressure on governments will be required in
the months ahead. Some straws in the wind may be heeded.


Nobel Laureate and former US vice-president Al Gore
told delegates at Bali not to enter into useless compromises with the US just
for the sake of consensus, and to to wait it out till the next US president
takes office! But what is the certainty that the next US president will in fact
do a U-turn? The newly elected Australian Labour prime minister did just that at
Bali because public opinion at home was solidly ranged against the previous
government’s US-like stance. In the US itself, public pressure is mounting, with
more than 25 states now having adopted Kyoto-like targets threatening to render
the federal government irrelevant, forcing even the obdurate George W Bush into
at least verbally acknowledging climate change and not wanting to be seen as
totally obstructionist.


India, and other emerging economies, need hard
introspection. It is no longer enough to argue that “development” (for whom?)
gets priority over all else. India too needs to set targets for emissions
mitigation, not from today’s levels but from projected growth and rates of
growth, as argued earlier in these columns. Indeed, the IPCC Report in the
footnoted reference in the Bali Declaration, says as much: “Developing country
emissions need to deviate below their projected baseline emissions within the
next few decades”. India must do more and so must everybody else.