Ministers arrived in Bali today for two days of speeches and negotiations with the ultimate outcome being a “road map” for two years of negotiation culminating in a post-Kyoto climate change agreement.
The US position resisting specific numbers on emission reduction was hardened today as the lead negotiator from the State Department, Paula Dobriansky, and Bush’s main environmental adviser, James Connaughton, arrived in Bali. Their press conference was a lesson in obfuscation. Dobriansky read a prepared statement that spent a considerable amount of time naming all of the members of the administration’s delegation and very little on the substance of the negotiations.
On a more positive front, it seems as if the “Roadmap” will have an element on deforestation. Fiona Harvey of the Financial Times discusses some of the challenges with measuring carbon saved from keeping forests intact and how a scheme that would entail financial transfers from the industrialized countries to the developing world would operate.
The Nation’s Daphne Wysham has a very interesting critique of the forestation schemes being discussed. She approaches it with skepticism, arguing that the linkage of carbon trading as a way of raising money for forest projects (something Yvo de Boer has suggested as a possibility) is going to further erode the sovereignty of developed countries as their “forest capital” could be leveraged to further indebtedness. Furthermore, a market-based financial incentive may trump the ecological benefits of forest preservation. Given the fact that forest destruction in many developing countries is currently illegal, the problem of monitoring effectiveness seems challenging.
Higher level delegations began to arrive in Bali in advance of the ministerial meetings on Wednesday. Over the weekend a draft document was developed to guide discussions. It included a provision for quantified emissions reductions–which is a non-starter for the US.
- In his press conference today, UN climate change chief, Yvo de Boers, called out Canada for being hypocritical. The Canadian delegation has been one of the most vocal in demanding that developing countries agree to binding emissions, but they also announced that Canada has not met its own reductions commitment under Kyoto.
- de Boers also defended the importance of discussing quantifiable emissions reductions in Bali (the draft proposal calls on industrialized countries to reduce emissions between 20-30% from 1990 levels by 2020). His argued that the science shows that immediate action is necessary and that it is difficult for the private sector to invest in technological development during a period of uncertainty. If emissions numbers were known, private corporations and utilities could make requisite modifications in new construction and maintenance. This is especially important in fast-growing economies, such as China’s, where new coal-fired power plants are being put on line weekly.
- The US delegate Harlan Watson rejected agreement to emissions reduction commitments at Bali because they could “prejudice outcomes” for future negotiations.
- Interestingly, US Senator John Kerry–while critical of the Bush Administration’s stance–also urged a degree of measured patience at the talks. He revisited the failure of Kyoto in the US Senate in the late 1990s and argued that it would have passed had the agenda at Kyoto included all countries in the world for some level of emission reduction. He argued that the set of meetings held in advance of Kyoto took that option off the table and that it ultimately made it impossible for the US Senate to pass.
- Kerry, however, was impressive in his press conference, saying that his presence was intended to show the international community that there is a strong commitment to addressing climate change in the US even if the Bush Administration is agnostic on the subject.
According to the Independent, the British commerce minister will announce tomorrow that the United Kingdom will build enough offshore wind farms by 2020 to meet the country’s residential power needs.
Apparently the minister, John Hutton, had privately advised Prime Minister Gordon Brown to focus on nuclear expansion rather than renewables. Thus, this announcement will come as a bit of a reversal.
The sites for the wind farms still need to be determined, but the Independent reported that the government anticipates less resistance if they are situated offshore.
With the British announcement, I anticipate that many other countries will make bold pronouncements to build their green credentials as the Bali ministerial meetings begin on Wednesday.
In fact, Norway, has just announced a major initiative to protect rainforests in developing countries, on the eve of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony tomorrow.
The Canadian press oftentimes likes to look at its southern neighbor with bemusement and bewilderment.
The latest example of this comes from the Toronto Star’s Washington editor who looks at the phenomenon of commuting in the Washington DC area. They profile a person who commutes 244km from extreme western Virginia to a DC suburb for work. While this distance is pretty extreme, it reflects growing trend of longer commute times and the lost productivity and leisure that comes with the spatial segregation of affordable housing and employment centers. This is exacerbated by a mobility monoculture that offers no alternative to the automobile.
Interestingly, the Star’s London bureau chief gives a similar story of a long commute in the British capital–this time involving train travel. London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s congestion charging scheme made it more expensive for London’s commuters to drive into the central city causing an increase in ridership with concomitant train delays and crowded, uncomfortable rides. The person profiled in the London piece travels 60km, and has about a 90 minute commute.
These two stories offer interesting points of comparison. While the London commuter has more mobility options, the total commute time is similar for a shorter distance. Issues of affordable housing and quality of life preferences certainly figure in to each case–as well as the social costs and benefits of each form of mobility.
The Star is continuing the series on commuting in various cities around the world all week with dispatches from Israel, Beijing and Palestine.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting that the UN has released a draft declaration to be delivered to ministers at the Bali talks on Wednesday.
I was unable to find a copy online, but the ABC report indicates that the declaration “called on developing countries to recognize the need to limit or reduce emissions.” It apparently also includes the 20-40% industrialized country GHG reduction target by 2020 that I discussed earlier.
The ultimate goal is to insure that a 2 degree increase in global temperatures is avoided.
From this brief report, it looks as if the delegates will be using the IPCC synthesis report as its basis for the talks. This is not unexpected–but given the intransigent positions of some of the major countries on reductions (China, US, India, Canada, and Japan) it will be interesting to see the reactions later in the week.
The UN-sponsored climate talks were in recess today, but there are still some interesting media reports coming out of Bali.
The Christian Science Monitor has a good story on some of the shortcomings of Kyoto, but also previews the draft document that will be the basis for this week’s minsterial talks. Interestingly, the preamble asserts that industrialized countries should reduce GHG emissions by 20-40% from 1990 levels by 2020. The US has already rejected such specifics, so it will be interesting to see how the delegation responds if the 20-40% number remains in the document after discussions tomorrow and Tuesday.
The Hindustan Times talks to some of the Indian delegates off the record to give a glimpse of where the talks are headed from a developing country perspective. Unsurprisingly, the sentiment expressed in the article is that, as long as big emitters such as Japan, Canada and the US are unwilling to budge on increased binding emissions reductions without developing country participation, countries such as India are likely to point out that their per-capita emissions are so low that matters of equity require them to be exempt.
To offer a little perspective on the variety of positions coming from the developing world, see Joydeep Gupta’s comparison of India and China. Gupta characterizes China as being much more pragmatic and proactive in reducing its own emissions. Even though both countries are against binding emissions for developing countries, China’s approach may give them a better negotiating position as opposed to India’s recalcitrance.
Tomorrow, Al Gore and IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri will accept their Nobel Peace prize before going to Bali later in the week. Gore has been arguing for a global carbon tax as a way to develop a revenue stream to offset the real costs of climate change.
Saturday’s official deliberations at the Bali conference were limited to the continuation of discussions by working groups to develop an agenda for the beginning of ministerial meetings on Tuesday. At the press conference marking the halfway point in the conference, UN climate change chief Yvo de Boers made some interesting observations.
First, he noted the strong resistance for binding emissions reductions on the part of developing countries. This will likely cause friction as industrialized countries such as Australia, Japan, and Canada have been pushing India and China to make binding cuts.
Second, de Boers is worried that if too many specifics are on next week’s agenda, the ministers may recoil and talks could be scuttled. He reasserted his goal of Bali producing a commitment to continued talks, a general agenda for such talks, and a delimited time line for their completion. However, in a response to a question on emissions targets that had been mentioned in the IPCC report, he intimated that having a particular goal of around 40% GHG emission reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 would be useful as part of the agenda to go forward.
Other climate policy-related news from Bali and elsewhere:
The first week of the UN-sponsored climate change conference in Bali is coming to a close. I haven’t yet had a chance to look at the various webcasts from Friday’s sessions so this update will focus on some of the reporting. The main official session on Friday consisted of an update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is the Nobel Prize winning scientific commission that has spent the last 16 months, or so, reviewing the scientific literature on climate change. They issued their latest, “synthesis,” report last month. The report asserts unequivocally that the earth is indeed warming and that this is due to human activity. I am assuming that today’s session is essentially a replication of the briefing done last month in Valencia by the IPCC. The Bali webcast page has some of the relevant documents from today’s presentation.
In other news from Bali:
Thursday was taken up with lower-level informal discussions in anticipation of developing an agenda for next week’s minsterial meetings. Thus, there was not much news from the negotiators. Many, NGOs and other advocacy groups, however, took the opportunity to assert their views in an attempt to influence negotiations.
Some key developments:
- A group of around 200 climate scientists–many of whom were involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–released the Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists. The IPCC provides scientific evidence on anthropogenic climate change. Yesterday’s declaration was more policy-oriented. The scientists argue that global warming must be limited to 2 degree centigrade from pre-industrial levels and global GHG emissions must be reduced by 50% from 1990 levels by 2020.
- In his second press conference of the week (webcast), lead US negotiator Harlan Watson rambled for about five minutes on a topic essentially unrelated to the UN negotiations until announcing that the US-sponsored meetings of the major economies will continue next month. He asserted that neither the meetings in Bali nor next month’s discussions will have the issue of specific binding emissions reductions on the table. When pressed about the Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists, he claimed he didn’t know about it. With the lack of clarity coming from the Administration, it is becoming more clear that Bush’s strategy is to dodge and weave until he’s out office, leaving his successor to deal with climate change policy.
- According to the New York Times’ environment blog, UN climate chief Yvo de Boers indicated that IPCC scientific assessments should be more frequent than the customary 5-6 intervals. It will be interesting to see this issue discussed at tomorrow’s plenary on the IPCC reporting process. The plenary is scheduled to be webcast beginning at 3pm Bali time.
- The Japanese delegation released some ideas for the post-Bali negotiations that conspicuously omitted mention of binding targets for emissions. Environmentalists criticized the proposal, but the Japanese defended it as a way of getting the US into discussions.
With the high-profile UN climate change conference reaching its half-way point in Bali, the key environment committee in the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a bill yesterday that would require 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The bill (S. 2191) now goes to the Senate floor where the Republican minority–led by climate change denier James Inhofe–promises to filibuster the bill.
The Lieberman-Warner bill would introduce a cap-and-trade program with emissions credits first being given to industrial emitters (like power plants) and, later, being auctioned. The bill also introduces a nationwide low-carbon fuel standard that requires a 10% cut in the carbon content of fuel by 2020.
On the whole, the bill is pretty modest by international standards. An amendment by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont which would require an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 was defeated. This 80% number is emerging as the scientific consensus and has been advocated by economists such as Sir Nicholas Stern.
It is unlikely that the bill will be taken up until after the new year.