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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bali Or Bust

Air Date: Week of

Philip Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust. (Photo: National Environmental Trust)

Living on Earth previews the upcoming conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia where representatives of 180 nations will try to come up with a new international treaty dealing with global warming. Host Steve Curwood talks with Philip Clapp of the National Environmental Trust.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts—this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. As December begins, delegates from just about all of the world’s nations are gathering in Bali, Indonesia at a UN conference to address global warming. The Kyoto Protocol that was negotiated ten years ago will gradually expire over the next few years, and at issue is what will replace it.

Joining me from our studio on Capitol Hill in Washington is Philip Clapp. He’s president of the National Environmental Trust and will be in Bali for the climate negotiations. Hello, Phil!

CLAPP: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: So, what’s supposed to happen at Bali?

CLAPP: Bali is the launch of a critical two-year negotiation to complete a new international global warming treaty. And this will really be the world’s last chance to get global warming pollution under control or we’re going to face the worst impacts. We’re looking at most recent data showing 250 million people in Africa facing water shortages, 150 million people in Asia facing food shortages and hunger, and potentially as many as 100 million new refugees every year created by storms and extreme weather events. That’s the entire population of Mexico every year.

Philip Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust. (Photo: National Environmental Trust)

CURWOOD: So how relevant is this UN process? Kyoto hasn’t seemed to slow down climate change despite the mandatory caps that are a part of it. How relevant is this?

CLAPP: This is the only process by which the world can actually come to a worldwide agreement to cut emissions. And this is something that literally all countries have to do. But leaders like the United States, with the wealth, the technology, and the largest polluters, have to take the lead. We’ve got to stop the growth in the world’s emissions in the next ten to 15 years, and we’ve got to cut them by 80 percent within the next 30 to 40 years. That’s got to start now.

CURWOOD: So, President Bush has objected to mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. When he convened the global warming summit of some of the biggest emitters in Washington back in September, he said each nation should independently set its own targets and develop the tools and technologies that work for its own particular situation so it doesn’t undermine economic growth. How compatible is the U.S. position with what’s going to happen in Bali and what are the prospects—if it’s incompatible in your view—what are the prospects of seeing a change?

CLAPP: The Bush administration continues to be the odd man out in the world’s efforts to control global warming pollution. As far as the Bush administration’s proposals—the president is really just rolling out again exactly the same treaty proposal that his father made in 1992 that failed. Kyoto was never intended to solve the problem all by itself. It was intended to be a first step in the world developing the complicated structures necessary to reduce our fossil fuel use. And those foundations are being laid right now. The question is: will we take them far enough in this round of negotiations starting in Bali to actually solve the problem?

CURWOOD: So, how do you bring in the rapidly developing countries—the big ones like China and India—into the next round of what follows Kyoto with mandatory limits on greenhouse gases for those countries as well?

CLAPP: I think what you’re going to find is a treaty that I would call Kyoto Plus. You’ll have the core of solid emissions reduction targets economy wide for big countries—big, wealthy, developed countries. But you’ll have more flexible mechanisms for more developing countries whose economies are very, very different.

The key issue, for example, with China is the growth of electricity production and therefore the burning of coal, which is the largest single fossil fuel producer of global warming pollution. China can take major steps to restrain the growth of its electricity sector, restrain the growth of coal use in China, and actually out of the treaty, they could get financial benefits from other countries for doing that. So those are the kind of flexible approaches that I think are going to attract a number of developing countries.

CURWOOD: So, if I understand some of the things the Bush administration has said is that they feel it’s real important for China and India to be involved, and China and India say well, they don’t think they should really take a stand on having limits on their emissions without the U.S. being involved. It seems to me like there’s some kind of a standoff, that things are just stuck.

CLAPP: There is a bit of a standoff and you know, China and India have a point when they say
‘well, you know, the United States produced 50 percent of the pollution that’s in the atmosphere, don’t you think you have a responsibility to at least get started before you ask us to clean up the mess you made?’ And that’s a reasonable argument. At the same time, China and India are growing massively in terms of their emissions and the growth of those emissions has to be slowed down, so they’re going to have to step up to the plate, too.

CURWOOD: You’ve been working on climate change negotiations for years so let me ask you—what’s your biggest fear about these upcoming negotiations in Bali?

CLAPP: That the rest of the world will blink in the face of Bush administration opposition, and not create a clear timetable that in the very short space of two years—between now and December 2009—can come up with a binding treaty. And binding targets are the only things that have begun to reduce worldwide emissions. So my biggest fear is that the Bush administration will block the ability to negotiate an effective new treaty.

CURWOOD: What’s the best we can hope for then out of Bali in your view?

CLAPP: The best we can hope for actually, is that the Bush administration blinks and there have been indications in past negotiations that if put on the spot, they might back off. In 2005 in Montreal at negotiations like this where binding targets had to be part of a document, the administration first staged a walkout and then when the press was very bad the next morning, the White House turned around and said ‘why don’t we just quiet down and let the thing go through.’ I think you might see a similar thing happen at Bali. I think it’s very hard for the president—having gone to the G8 and agreed that a new international treaty should be struck by 2009—to bring the whole house down at the first negotiations. But it’s not impossible.

CURWOOD: Phil Clapp is the president of the National Environmental Trust. Thanks for taking the time with us, Phil.

CLAPP: Thanks for having me, Steve.

CURWOOD: And see you in Bali! More about climate change coming up from a presidential candidates forum, but first—fish.



United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali

National Environmental Trust

The White House on climate change


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