/ 16 December 2007

Bali climate deal: Now comes the hard part

A ”historic” Bali deal. A ”Berlin Wall” dividing rich and poor nations on global warming policy falls. A ”new chapter” for Washington after six years of climate disputes with many of its allies.

And now comes the hard part.

After all the praise for the agreement hammered out at the 190-nation Bali meeting to work out a long-term climate treaty involving all nations by late 2009, governments will have to work out the details.

”We will have two tremendously demanding years, starting right in January,” said Humberto Rosa, head of the European Union delegation, after a dramatic United States U-turn on Saturday paved the way for a deal to start negotiations on a global pact.

The world has a lot to do to slow soaring emissions and time is running short, even though the United Nations Climate Panel says warming can be beaten at a cost below 0,1% of world gross domestic product annually until 2030.

Negotiators left Bali speaking of a historic breakthrough and promising urgent action to fight climate change that could bring more floods, droughts, storms, heatwaves and rising seas.

But in the marathon talks on the Indonesian resort island they spent more than seven hours one night, for instance, arguing over whether the final text should urge poor countries to take ”action” or make a ”contribution” to combating climate change. The phrase ”cut emissions” was not used.

Working out a fair share of the burden between the United States, China, Russia and India, the top four greenhouse gas emitters, and the rest of the world will be one of the most complex diplomatic puzzles in history.

US president

The talks will test relations between rich and poor and may be partly in limbo until a new president takes office in the White House after George Bush steps down in January 2009. Few want to make promises until new US policies are clear.

”If there’s a major change in the [US] government policy I expect that there will be a greater acceleration in the execution of commitments,” said Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar.

A first meeting on the ”Bali roadmap” is likely to be held in Ghana in early 2008, with four sessions around the world each year and culminating with a deal in late 2009 in Copenhagen.

While poor nations ended up promising only vague ”action”, developed nations dropped a clear references, favoured by the European Union but opposed by the United States, to a need for rich nations to axe greenhouse gas emissions by 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to avert the worst of climate change.

Both the United States and many nations which accepted the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are well above 1990 levels. ”Cuts that deep, that fast, are simply impossible,” said James Connaughton, chairperson of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said of the 2020 goal.

Still, he said, the deal was a ”new chapter” in climate diplomacy after Bush rejected Kyoto in 2001, saying emissions caps would harm the US economy and that Kyoto wrongly excluded targets for developing nations.

Kyoto binds 37 rich nations to cut emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. The UN says a new deal is needed by 2009 to give Parliaments time to ratify and to guide investors, in everything from solar power to coal.

De Boer said Bali tore down ”the Berlin Wall of climate change” between rich and poor under Kyoto, which only sets commitments for rich nations. In future, all will take part.

Among incentives for poor nations, Bali laid out schemes to slow deforestation, sharing ”clean” technologies and a new fund to help vulnerable people adapt to droughts or rising seas.

Angus Friday of Grenada, who represents small island states, said the ”Bali roadmap” was disappointing and could have been agreed by email instead of sending more than 10 000 delegates on carbon-spewing jets for two weeks to Bali.

The talks marked a much more assertive tone by developing nations such as China and India, which won the last-minute showdown that forced the United States to give ground and promise to do more to share clean technology in a final deal.

”This was China’s coming-out party,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Many said the roadmap would help. ”Everybody is in his car and everybody has petrol for the road,” said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

”Without carbon dioxide, I hope.” – Reuters