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Bali Climate Talks Wrap Up

Air Date: Week of

Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita cuts the 10th anniversary cake of the Kyoto Protocol. (Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

The international community struggles to come up with a plan for the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, and Al Gore asks nations to move forward rapidly to fight climate change, despite the United States’ reluctance to call for mandatory action. Host Steve Curwood reports on the progress and conflicts as the United Nations climate conference wraps up in Bali,including developments regarding a tropical forest protection plan known as REDD- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.


CURWOOD: From Nusa Dua, on Bali Island in Indonesia, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood reporting from United Nations Climate change conference here.


CURWOOD: Island children greeted delegates from almost every country in the world as hundreds of reporters, scientists and campaigners descended on this South Seas resort island for the first two weeks of December.

Some shouted, some pleaded, some simply quietly negotiated about how the world should move forward after the first so-called commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The mission was to develop a plan for how to move forward in the fight again global warming, with 2009 as the target for a final agreement.

While the negotiators were vague about the precise amount of greenhouse gas reductions to be negotiated in the years ahead, there were breakthroughs in terms of developing countries and forests. With me now to explain those and other issues is Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressing delegates at the opening of the High-Level segment. (Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

MEYER: We’ve seen a major change in the positioning of major developing countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and China, at these negotiations—willing to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in coming years. They’re not willing to take on the same kind of economy-wide absolute caps as the industrialized countries have under the Kyoto Protocol—nor should they, given their level of development and their economic standards.

But they are willing to put significant proposals on the table to slow the growth and eventually cap and reduce their absolute emissions of greenhouse gases over coming decades. And that’s a real political breakthrough. It’s the kind of thing that people in the United States, who have been critical of the Kyoto Protocol, have said it’s not global and it won’t work because China and India and Brazil won’t do anything. Well, they’re willing to do some very significant things in negotiations over the next two years.

CURWOOD: What are the kinds of numbers that the developing countries say they’re willing to take on as part of the whole, that is, as part of the whole world?

Five months after a pioneering world tour from Switzerland to Bali, a solar powered taxi has arrived at the UN Climate Change Conference.
(Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

MEYER: Well, we know from the science that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we have to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 50 percent or more by 2050. That implies a very deep reduction for countries like the United States, given that we’re now the largest, or one of the largest polluters per capita in the world. But it also means that the major developing countries, which are rapidly growing and whose emissions have been growing, must also take their share of responsibility over that period to stop the growth and then reduce their absolute emissions. And that’s going to require tremendous investment in clean technologies and new kinds of power plants and more efficient vehicles.

Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita cuts the 10th anniversary cake of the Kyoto Protocol.(Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

The reality is that countries like China have been doing a tremendous amount on the ground in their own countries. They already have more ambitious fuel-economy standards for new cars, for example, than the United States will by 2020 if Congress passes the energy bill that’s now before it. They also have a nationwide electricity target, which President Bush has threatened to veto should the Congress pass one. So in many ways, China is ahead of the United States in terms of actual policies and measures on the ground. But the breakthrough here is that they may be willing to put those kind of commitments and even more aggressive commitments on the table in negotiations with the U.S., Europe, and other countries over the next two years as we seek to move towards that 50 percent reduction goal by 2050.

CURWOOD: I understand there was a breakthrough in terms of tropical forests. What happened?

MEYER: Well, what happened is that for the first time countries formally agreed to put on the negotiating table proposals to help developing countries with rainforests—Indonesia or Brazil, Congo, some of the Central American countries, others—help them get the money and technical assistance they need to preserve their rainforests rather than feeling like they have to cut them down.

Climate protesters getting their message across.(Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

These rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They provide tremendous services to the planet in absorbing carbon dioxide and holding it. Destruction of these rainforests is responsible for roughly 20 percent of global carbon emissions. That’s the same as China—all of China, all of the United States, or all of the global transportation sector. So it’s a huge sector. And frankly, it wasn’t treated effectively, under either the Rio Treaty or under the Kyoto Protocol. Now we will be able to talk about ways to provide incentives to these countries to preserve their rainforests rather than cutting them down, and that’s a huge breakthrough at these talks.

The delegates gather at the UN Climate Change Conference (Photo: Steve Curwood)

CURWOOD: Where do things go from here now? As I understand it the target is two years from now in Copenhagen.

MEYER: By the meeting in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, they hope to have wrapped up negotiations on this next phase of the international climate treaty process. Fortunately, that’s about ten months after the next president takes office. There’s been a lot of talk in these halls about how willing he or she may be to engage more constructively in this debate than President Bush has been. And people are putting a lot of stock in the representation of U.S. and environmental and business groups here, that the next president will be more forthcoming and willing to step up to the plate and provide U.S. leadership again in this process.

CURWOOD: How satisfied are you with what happened here in Bali? From your perspective, did the world get enough to go forward?

MEYER: Well, it obviously isn’t a perfect result, but it’s not a disaster. It could well have been a disaster. It could have come crashing down. We could have seen a polarization between North and South that could have set back the process. We didn’t get the outcome that we wanted with clear targets for going forward over the next two years, but we got enough there I think to continue to build political will in the united states, to have the rest of the world going forward without us for the next year, and then to let the next president of the U.S. reengage in early 2009 and hopefully produce a strong, new agreement—negotiated agreement by the Copenhagen meeting by the end of that year.

A billboard announcing the UN conference is a back-drop to the morning commute. (Photo: Steve Curwood)

CURWOOD: Alden Meyer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thank you so much.

MEYER: Good to be with you, Steve.

CURWOOD: At a moment when it seemed that negotiations had become hopelessly bogged down here in Bali, former Vice President Al Gore was perhaps the most prominent of the dignitaries who came here to encourage the negotiators. The former vice president came from his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo to address the climate change conference. He chastised the Bush administration for being what he called an obstacle and urged the delegates to consider the long term. Here’s an excerpt of his remarks.

GORE: We the human species face a planetary emergency. Just this week new evidence has been presented. I remember years ago listening to the scientists, who specialize in the study of ice and snow, express concern that sometime toward the end of the 21st century we might even face the possibility of losing the entire north polar ice cap. I remember only three years ago, when they revised their estimates to say it could happen halfway through the 21st century, by 2050. I remember at the beginning of this year, when I was shocked, along with others, to hear them say it could happen in as little as 34 years. And now, this week, they tell us it could completely disappear in as little as five to seven years.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore speaks at a side event organized by the Alliance for Climate Protection (Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

For those who have believed that this climate crisis was going to affect their grandchildren, and who were shaken a bit to hear that it would affect their children, and still said and did nothing: it is affecting us, in the present generation, and it is up to us in this generation to solve this crisis. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, community leaders, business leaders—all across my country and around the world are beginning to look much more clearly at what is involved here. We are seeing the early stages of the first global people-power movement. There will be a mass movement worldwide.


GORE: Decades ago Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ In like fashion, global warming pollution increased anywhere threatens the future of world civilization everywhere. That is the basis for rethinking what used to be called ‘foreign aid,’ or assistance. We have an obligation to form partnerships to reduce CO2 everywhere on Earth. So we must leave here with a strong mandate.

The greatest opportunity inherent in this climate crisis is not only to quickly deploy the new technologies that will facilitate sustainable development and create the new jobs and to lift standards of living. The greatest opportunity is that in rising to meet the climate crisis, we in our generation will find the moral authority and capacity for long-term vision to get our act together in this world. We are one people, on one planet. We have one future, one destiny. We must pursue it together and we can.

When we hear of that phrase ‘capacity building,’ it’s usually used by someone in a wealthy country talking about poor countries. I think it’s time we had capacity building in the wealthy, developed countries. For leadership, and for partnership, and for cooperation, and for vision.


GORE: Instead of shaking our heads at the difficulty of this task and saying ‘woe is us, this is impossible, how can we do this? We’re so mad at the ones that are making it harder.’ We ought to feel a sense of joy that we have work that is worth doing that is so important to the future of all humankind. We ought to feel a sense of exhilaration that we are the people alive at a moment in history when we can make all the difference. That’s who you are. You have everything you need. We have everything we need, save perhaps political will. But political will is a renewable resource. Thank you very much.


CURWOOD: Former Vice President Al Gore, speaking at the United Nations Climate conference here in Bali on Dec 13.


CURWOOD: In the final hours of the meeting, the environment minister of Indonesia gathered on a beach next to the convention with buckets of water. In the buckets were hundreds of baby turtles. People were invited to release into the sea.

As these baby turtles slowly crossed the sand and slid into the sea, they joined a reproductive ritual that has been going on for more than 260 million years. And as the turtles crawled, perhaps it was a metaphor for the negotiators to consider that the slow and steady usually wins the race for long-term survival.


CURWOOD: Throughout the negotiations in Bali, many speakers spoke directly or indirectly about the American presidential elections—citing 2009 as the time to set in stone the next global warming gas limits under the Kyoto Protocol. So today we continue our series on how US presidential candidates say they plan to fight climate change. Representative Dennis Kucinich took part in the Los Angeles presidential forum on global warming—his views right ahead. Keep listening to Living on Earth.



United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change- Bali, 3 - 14 December 2007


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