I just received this note from Barbara Bramble, National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Program Advisor for International Affairs. Barbara has landed in Bali, Indonesia, where the International Climate negotiations are now underway.
(Dec 7) – Bali is rumored to be a beautiful place, and I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. But except for what I can see from the shuttle bus from my hotel to the conference center where the climate change negotiations are taking place, I haven’t seen much. It might as well be Downtown Anywhere USA, for all I know. But the Balinese people are amazingly welcoming and kind. I had heard of this, but it’s still just astounding to be greeted by everyone with such joy and friendliness. Even the guys in immigration and customs were quick and helpful–it makes me even more ashamed to think of the contrast with how US immigration treats all foreign visitors.
The first thing to know about the climate change negotiations now going in Bali is that though it is called a COP ("conference of the parties" meaning the countries that have signed the global warming treaty) it is really a conference of all sorts of people–thousands of NGOs from all over the world, journalists, experts, and students from a variety of universities–who care desperately about global warming. All are meeting, talking, lobbying, presenting proposals, putting out papers, holding press conferences, launching new initiatives…it’s very purposeful chaos. It’s a breed of human interaction that is fascinating and exciting and ultimately seductive–everyone becomes a participant in the kaleidoscope. But to a first timer, I can imagine it must be overwhelmingly confusing.
The second thing to know is that from the moment the COP starts, most everyone is haunted by the knowledge that they need to be in at least three places at once: a) in and around the negotiations, following the debates, meeting and lobbying delegates from as many countries as possible; b) in dozens of detailed strategy and planning meetings with other groups of NGOs, to try to agree on positions to push for; and c) then there are all these great side events, put together by some of the best minds working on global warming solutions from around the world, dozens of presentations every day, and often two or three of the ones you want to attend are scheduled at the same time. And what about lunch, and the article you promised to write for the NGO daily newsletter ECO? And, then how about getting around to that BLOG???
The tension is increased by the desperate need to convince delegates to accept certain words that seem very important to us here–but, really, who outside this hot house would even understand what the question is? A big fight was going on Thursday over whether the word "positive" should be added before the word "incentives" in the text on technology transfer. And today some are demanding to change "country submissions and a workshop" to "a programme of work" in the text on REDD – what on earth does any of that mean?
Anyway, so much for atmospherics–here is my assessment so far:
a) The U.S. delegation, which for so many years under the Bush Administration has been a blockade to meaningful progress, is in a real quandary. In previous COPs they have tried to delay and dilute agreement on the next targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, (which would kick in after 2012, when the current phase of reductions in the Kyoto Protocol ends). They are increasingly isolated here, as the lone holdout among industrialized countries, which hasn’t agreed to the Kyoto Protocol. When the new government that just took office in Australia announced they would join the Kyoto Protocol, that was a real blow to the White House (although now we hear there may be some backtracking in Australia after all). The US is still pushing various diversionary tactics, to try to derail these negotiations, such as their idea for a parallel track of talks among just a few of the major GHG emitting countries. But they don’t seem willing to come out front so clearly as the bad guys, as they used to.
So let’s see next week whether this adds up to their getting out of the way, to let the other countries make an agreement.
b) Most of the delegations here don’t understand how important state action is in the U.S. and they insist they only deal with the national government. So, many are anxiously waiting to hear whether the U.S. will agree to a negotiation schedule over the next 2 years, that will produce "a comparable level of effort," meaning that the U.S. would agree to match the EU’s GHG reduction commitments. I and the other US nongovernmental organizations here have explained to several of them how the states often lead in our country, with real power to take action, and that this pushes the federal government to fall into step (see for example, that now major business leaders are chiming in to ask for a national cap and trade system, because they don’t want to have to cope with different rules in the cap and trade states versus the others without such limits). Our fact sheet has been very helpful, and some delegations may be beginning to get it, but most still want to hear from the White House.
c) But failing that, it is so important for the Congress to be present here, to show there is a new day coming. That’s why it’s deeply disappointing that hardly anyone is coming. If he makes it, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) will be the focal point of a massive hunger for reassurance of U.S intentions, and he’ll carry a hugely important message.
But in the end, if the other countries want to use it as their excuse, the refusal of the official U.S. delegation here to budge could be successful in leaving the talks stuck in the mud. Stay tuned!