27 January 2008

The Post-Bali Road

Toni Johnson

Council on Foreign Relations - January 25, 2008

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The Post-Bali Road

An activist poses near a globe representing global warming outside the venue of the Bali climate change conference. (AP/Dita Alangkara)

On the heels of December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, the Bush administration hosts the second in a series of meetings focused on the top seventeen greenhouse-gas emitters January 30 and 31 in Hawaii. These meetings take place outside the UN process to draft a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and which the United States, somewhat famously, refused to ratify. The White House says it wants to forge agreement on some key questions (FT) facing major emitting nations, both developing and developed, and bolster the chances that the agreement eventually settled on to replace Kyoto is realistic.

But a good part of the world remains skeptical of the Bush administration’s sudden, late-term interest in the issue. Skeptics ranging from EU nations to developing countries like Brazil and India fear the meetings could be aimed at usurping the UN process (CSMonitor). Yet Erwin Jackson of Australia’s Climate Institute says the U.S.-led process has the potential to strengthen the hand (The Age) of UN negotiators if major economies can come to an agreement on an emissions-reduction target.

December’s much anticipated UN conference in Bali aimed to jump-start talks on what would replace the Kyoto Protocol, but two weeks of meetings ended with little progress on emissions reductions. Senior U.S. officials raised hopes among many that the administration had finally come around on the issue, with one official claiming that Washington already was leading the charge for a post-Kyoto approach. But in Bali it became clear that the Bush administration and most of the world were still not on the same page. In one mood-defining Bali moment (NYT), a negotiator from Papua New Guinea generated applause for his rebuke of U.S. officials. While U.S. leadership was still desired, he said, “if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.”

Yet Bali did achieve some breakthroughs (TIME): developing nations for the first time consented that any final agreement had to include some action by the developing world, not merely the industrialized world. However, their responsibilities are still expected to be less specific and stringent than those of developed nations. In a related bit of progress, an agreement was reached to curb deforestation, explained in this Backgrounder. According to TIME, China and India came away as Bali’s biggest winners, working with the European Union and other developing nations to demand action of the United States. Meanwhile, Canadian and Japanese efforts to align themselves with Washington on the issue of specific emissions-reduction targets drew the ire of environmental advocates. This CFR.org Backgrounder looks at differing perspectives among G8 nations on emissions targets. Some environmental activists are hoping that the next president will change U.S. policy on the issue (candidate positions are outlined here).

Bali watchers remain mostly upbeat about the ending but with the negotiations so difficult—and yielding little agreement on specifics—future discussions face an uphill battle. Alan Oxley, head of the nongovernmental organization World Growth, criticized Bali’s outcome (Bangkok Post), calling it “a defeat for the European Union,” unable to get commitments on reduction targets of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels. Yet, CFR Fellow Michael A. Levi says that among those countries opposing the specific target was a concern about “deciding on goals before looking at strategies.” White House spokesperson Dana Perino enforced the perception that the Bush administration is sticking to its own, preferably voluntary, approach. “Negotiations must [now] proceed on the view that the problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone,” (Guardian) she said. That theory will be tested again in Hawaii.

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