COP13—Bali Climate Conference

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The UN conference on climate change held in Bali, Indonesia in December 2007 led to a final agreement known as the Bali Roadmap.

The conference, more officially known as COP-13, or Conference of the Parties, Thirteenth session, 3-14 December 2007, Bali, Indonesia1.

The meeting drew more than 10,000 participants, including representatives of over 180 countries and observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and the media.

The Bali Roadmap outlined a new negotiating process to be concluded by 2009 to feed into a post-Kyoto (i.e. a post-2012) international agreement on climate change. The Roadmap included a decision to launch an Adaptation Fund as well as further decisions on technology transfer and on reducing emissions from deforestation.

But the conference was also accompanied by controversy, including

  • The US position being at odds with most of the rest of the world
  • Talk of developing countries’ responsibilities (such as China and India) while rich countries (the source of the problem) have made little progress, themselves.

As Inter Press Service (IPS) summarized:

The deep frustration shared by the members of G-77, a 130-member bloc of developing countries spanning Africa, Asia and Latin America, to U.S. objections to language in the final text of the roadmap was best echoed by the delegate from Papua New Guinea. If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way, a visibly angry Kevin Conrad told U.S. officials to cheers from other delegates.

It was a dispute over one paragraph in the section on the future role of developing countries to help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GhGs).… The G-77 had accepted a draft last night, but this morning we noticed there was a change, Kirit Parikh, member of the Indian planning commission and a delegate on New Delhi’s team to the Bali meeting, told IPS. We are not sure who was behind it. This was unacceptable to us.

The U.S. government found itself isolated during the final session, as [head of the U.S. government delegation, Paula] Dobriansky insisted on the mechanics of mitigation in the developing world being placed as a priority because developing countries have made statements (about GhG mitigation) but (there are) no commitments. That is what we want. The other powerful player at this meeting, the European Union, threw its weight behind the G-77.

Marwaan Macan-Markar, US Herded Into Consensus in Bali2, Inter Press Service, December 15, 2007

Campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth, many of whom were at the talks themselves, were disappointed3 with the outcome, saying targets were watered down to mere footnotes in the final text.

The mainstream British media, as well as other European outlets had been quite critical of the US stance and tactics. As IPS also noted,

Pakistani ambassador Munir Akram, chairman of the G-77, told journalists: We, the developing countries, have had an uphill battle at this conference to protect our legitimate interests. We had to fight every inch of the way to secure our objectives.

He even hinted that threats, including trade sanctions, had been made. While Akram did not elaborate, European diplomatic sources involved in the negotiations revealed that U.S. delegates had, at one point, introduced issues such as good governance in the developing world as a condition for Washington to be part of the Bali Roadmap.

Marwaan Macan-Markar, US Herded Into Consensus in Bali4, Inter Press Service, December 15, 2007

What were the kind of objectives the developing world was trying to ensure? That they were not scapegoats for climate change. For many, many years now, it has been recognized that the rich nations have been mostly at fault for climate change, because their greenhouse emissions have lingered in the atmosphere for decades.

Some have called this a natural debt owed to the developing world (just as the developing world have a financial debt to the rich5).

For some rich countries to want to avoid action until countries like India and China are subject to similar targets has been seen by much of the world as actually being unfair, especially as the rich nations have not reduced their emissions much.

For example, the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) is quoted here at length:

Responsibility needs rights.

The tragedy of the atmospheric common has been the lack of rights to this global ecological space. As a result, countries have borrowed or drawn heavily and without control. They have emitted greenhouse gases far in excess of what the Earth can withstand. This was because they could emit without limits or quotas and were “free riding” on this natural capital. Some researchers have called this the “natural debt” of the North, as against the financial debt of the South.

This is the science and the politics of CO2. One tonne of CO2 emitted in 1850 is the same as a tonne emitted today. The greenhouse gases … have long lifetime in the atmosphere; these gases are still warming the atmosphere, at any given year. The ‘sinks’—forests, oceans and soils—are the only cleaners of this dirt. The net emissions add up to the space that a nation has appropriated in the global atmospheric common and therefore its responsibility for the climate change.

Calculated in terms of the total emissions of each country, since the early 1900s, we find that every living American carries a natural debt burden of more than 1,050 tonnes of C02 (see graph: Cumulative CO2 emissions6). In comparison, every living Chinese has a natural debt of 68 tonnes and every living Indian, a mere 25 tonnes. Therefore, even with all the talks of India and China catching up with rich world in terms of total emissions, the fact is in terms of natural debt it will take many more decades before this happens.

This principle was accepted by the climate convention, which agreed that the rich world had to reduce its emissions to make space for the poor to grow. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol set the first, hesitant and weak, target for reduction by the rich countries. But this agreement has been more of less reneged on. The per capita emission of CO2 from fuel combustion in the US is still roughly 20 tonnes per year; between 6 tonnes and 12 tonnes for most European countries. This is not comparable to the per capita emissions of China, roughly 4 tonnes and 1.1 tonnes in India.

What equals effective7, Down To Earth Magazine, CSE, December 15, 2007

(The above article also notes the disparities within nations, including countries such as India, where the wealthy do consume far more than the rich, and that needs addressing too.)

CSE also points out that India and China are not that energy inefficient as often believed:

Myth 1: China and India are energy-inefficient and therefore grossly polluting. However, recent reports show this belief is founded on myths. The World Bank, in its October 2007 report on growth and CO2 emissions, finds that India is 1.5 times more efficient than the US in terms of emissions calculated in purchasing power parity terms. Highly-abused China is slightly more inefficient than the us— despite being the world’s largest manufacturing hub (see table: Comparative emissions efficiency8).

Efficiency / sufficiency9, Down To Earth Magazine, CSE, December 15, 2007

(The second myth they felt was Efficiency, not sufficiency, will cut emissions. They argue that while efficiency is of course important, there are examples where say car emissions have become better but people have been driving more, thus overall driving up emissions.)

In addition to the various links above, also see the following:

  • Climate Change Special10 from Down To Earth Magazine, by the Centre for Science and Environment, December 15, 2007 issue. This 17-part article looks at various issues on the politics of climate change, leading up to Bali.
  • Business in Bali: The science is clear, it's high time to sort out the politics11, from the same Down To Earth, December 15, 2007 issue, is a shorter version.
  • Climate Justice and Equity12 from this site goes into this developing country perspective in a bit more detail.
  • Bali Updates from the Third World Network13 provides more detailed look at the negotiating politics from the developing country perspective.

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