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Climate deal agreed in Bali showdown

December 18, 2007 By Olive Heffernan This article courtesy of Nature News.

Gruelling session brings the United States back to the table.

Insults, threats, tears and booing: the latest round of international climate talks made for an entertaining, if gruelling, two weeks in Nusa Dua, Indonesia. These talks may well be remembered for the bold stand that developing countries took against the United States in the push for consensus on how to move forward in negotiating a new international framework on climate change.

Some 10,000 delegates from nearly 190 nations finally agreed on Saturday to a 'Bali roadmap' that will guide negotiations up until the end of 2009, when they will have to decide on a regime to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. But the path to agreement was rocky from the outset, as discussions over individual words in the draft document led to heated arguments, threats of trade sanctions or boycotts, and even tears.

By the middle of the second week, a deal had more or less been reached on some of the key issues that would enable developing nations — including those with budding economies — to reduce their emissions. The deal entailed providing compensation for reducing tropical deforestation, which accounts for some 20% of greenhouse gases.

That left two thorny issues on the table, both of which the United States objected to. As one of the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitters and the only rich nation not to have ratified Kyoto, the United States became noticeably isolated as developing and developed nations, led by the European Union (EU), stood strong on the need for richer countries to lead on climate change and to tackle it with emissions targets. In a year that has been punctuated with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the urgency of global warming, most delegations agreed that the roadmap should refer to the need for industrialized nations to slash emissions by 25-40% of 1990 levels by 2020.

The EU delegation, headed by commissioner Stavros Dimas, argued that a roadmap without a destination would be pointless. And Portuguese secretary of state for the environment, Humberto Rosa said:"It is crucial for us that we must have an idea where we are heading to — it's not only to science to show us the destination, but the destination must be consistent with the science."

But the United States countered that to include specific numbers would be to "prejudge the outcome" of the process. Following days of intensive negotiations, a compromise was reached by including a footnote reference to the IPCC's fourth assessment report, without mention of the numerical range on reductions. Many feel that this concession amounts to sidelining the science, and risks narrowing the window of opportunity to avert dangerous climate change.

Amid all the drama, the real blows were reserved for a grand finale on Saturday, when worn-out delegates wrangled over one remaining issue — whether rich nations should provide "verifiable, measurable and reportable" technological aid to developing countries. Seemingly inspired by Al Gore's speech on Thursday urging delegates to sidestep the "obstructionist" United States, and following much booing and hissing at the US delegation, Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea's ambassador for climate change, stated: "If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way." In an eleventh-hour turnaround, the United States conceded.

"Bali has delivered what it needed to do," says Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN convention on climate change, calling the agreement "ambitious, transparent, and flexible". Perhaps most importantly, it has succeeded in bringing what may still be the world's largest emitter back to the table. But whether the 'flexibility' that was required will ultimately provide a means of manoeuvring out of real emissions reductions remains to be seen.


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