Bali: A Missed Opportunity

Mar 08

The gap between the
urgent threat of global warming and the collective will to do something
about it has never been greater. The recently concluded Conference on
Climate Change in Bali was a grand opportunity to act. Instead, it was
another missed opportunity. Unfortunately, the United States played a
very negative role, standing in the way of consensus at every turn. And
unfortunately, the rest of the world thought that seducing the US into
a new agreement on climate action was top priority, resulting in a Bali
Roadmap that was very sketchy.

A Roadmap to Anywhere

The US was brought back to the fold, but at the cost of excising from
the final document–the so-called Bali Roadmap–any reference to the need
for a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990
levels by 2020 to keep the mean global temperature increase to 2.0 to
2.4 degrees Celsius in the 21st century.

Reference to quantitative figures was reduced to a footnote referring
readers to some pages in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) 2007 Report which simply enumerate several climate stabilization
scenarios. The alternative scenarios ranged from a 2.0 to 2.4 degree
rise in temperature to a 4.9 to 6.1 degree increase. This prompted one
civil society participant to remark that the “Bali roadmap is a roadmap
to anywhere.”

A few days after the new agreement was forged, many are now having
doubts whether on balance, it was positive. Would it have been better
to have simply let the US walk out, allowing the rest of the world to
forge a strong agreement containing deep mandatory cuts in greenhouse
gas emissions on the part of the developed countries? With a new US
president with a new policy on climate change at the beginning of 2009,
the US would have rejoined a process that would already be moving along
with strong binding targets. As it is now, having been part of the Bali
consensus, Bush administration negotiators, say skeptics, will be able
to continue their obstructionist tactics to further water down global
action throughout the negotiations in 2008.

One wonders what would have happened had Washington remained true to
its ideological propensities and decided to stomp out of the room when
the delegate from Papua New Guinea, releasing the conference’s pent up
collective frustration, issued his now historic challenge: “We ask for
your leadership and we seek your leadership. If you are not willing to
lead, please get out of the way.” As everyone now knows, after
last-minute consultations with Washington, the American negotiator
backed down from the US’s hard-line position on an Indian amendment
seeking the conference’s understanding for the different capacities of
developing countries to deal with climate change and said Washington
“will go forward and join the consensus.”

Weak Institutional Outcomes

The single-minded focus on getting Washington on board resulted in the
dearth of hard obligations agreed upon at the meeting except for the
deadline for the negotiating body, the “Ad Hoc Working Group on
Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention,” to have its work
ready for adoption at the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in 2009
(COP 15).

Many delegates also felt ambivalent about the institutional
arrangements that were agreed upon after nearly two weeks of hard
North-South negotiations.

  • An Adaptation Fund was set up, but it was put under the
    administration of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the
    US-dominated World Bank. Moreover, the seed funds from the developed
    countries are expected to come to only between $18.6 million to US$37.2
    million–sums which are deemed severely inadequate to support the
    emergency efforts to address the ongoing ravages of climate change in
    the small island states and others on the “frontlines” of climate
    change. Oxfam estimates that a minimum of US$50 billion a year will be
    needed to assist all developing countries adapt to climate change.

  • A “strategic program” for technology development and transfer
    was also approved, again with troubling compromises. The developing
    countries had initially held out for the mechanism to be a designated a
    “facility” but finally had to agree to the watered-down
    characterization of the initiative as a “program” on account of US
    intransigence. Moreover, the program was also placed under the GEF with
    no firm levels of funding stated for an enterprise that is expected to
    cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

  • The REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and
    Degradation) initiative pushed by host Indonesia and several other
    developing countries with large forests that are being cut down rapidly
    was adopted. The idea is to get the developed world to channel money to
    these countries, via aid or market mechanisms, to maintain these
    forests as carbon sinks. However, many climate activists fear that
    indigenous communities will simply be victimized by predatory private
    interests that will position themselves to become the main recipients
    of the funds raised.

Big Business Roars in

In this connection, Bali will be remembered as the climate change
conference where business came in in a big way. A significant number of
the side events focused on market solutions to the greenhouse gas (GHG)
problem such as emissions trading arrangements. Under such schemes, GHG
intensive countries can “offset” their emissions by paying non-GHG
intensive countries to forego pollution-intensive activities, with the
market serving as the mediator. Shell and other big-time polluters have
been making the rounds touting the market as the prime solution to the
climate crisis, a position that articulates well with the US position
against mandatory emission cuts set by government.

Climate change activists have been appalled and stunned by the business
takeover of the climate change discourse. According to them, the carbon
market was originally a very minor part of the architecture of climate
architecture, one that climate activists agreed to in order to get the
US on board the Kyoto express. Well, the US did not get on board, and
we are now stuck with carbon markets driving the process since the
corporations have found that there is money to be made from climate
change. Many climate activists worry that carbon trading will merely
allow polluters in the North to keep on polluting while allowing
private interests in the South to displace smallholders so they can set
up unmonitored and unregulated tree plantations that are supposed to
absorb carbon dioxide.

The Philippines at the Frontlines of Global Warming

The Philippines, we learned at Bali, is on the frontlines of climate
change. In a study released at the meeting, the institute Germanwatch
claimed that the Philippines was the country most negatively affected
by climate-related disasters in 2006. Measured on a “climate risk
index” derived from four indicators—total number of deaths, deaths per
100,000 inhabitants, absolute losses in millions of US$ purchasing
power parity, and losses per unit of GDP—the Philippines topped North
Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam. When we talk about the people dying from
the recent spate of supertyphoons like Millenio, let us be clear that
we are talking about victims of climate change. When we talk about
people being displaced or uprooted from their homes, we are talking
about environmental refugees, as much refugees as people in Tuvalu and
Bougainville who are forced to flee their lands on account of sea-level
rise. We are no longer talking about the usual ravages of a normal
typhoon season. We as a people are at the frontlines of global warming.

A National Response to Climate Change

The many dimensions of the climate crisis in the Philippines still need
to be understood. We are sure, however, that many of the preemptive and
adaptive measures needed to protect our people will cost billions of
dollars. If what we saw in Bali is any indication, money on this scale
is not likely to come from the North in the form of aid. We have to
raise it from our own resources. Climate change is one more reason why
we need to radically reduce the massive outflow of financial resources
to our creditors and channeling it to solutions to national problems.
More than ever, we must act to drastically write down the foreign debt.

Radically scaling down our debt is, however, but one aspect of a
broader response. Let me conclude by saying that climate change is fast
emerging as the greatest challenge to our generation, for even as we
prepare for it, we must also make sure that our country develops so we
can eliminate poverty. Poverty can never be a solution to the climate
crisis. The ultimate solution is a pattern of development that is both
sustainable and equitable. A transition to a low-growth, low-carbon
economy where people’s standards of living have also risen is possible.
But it will only be possible if equity is at the center of development.
Thus climate change is both a crisis and an opportunity—an opportunity
to overcome the structural obstacles to social equality and genuine
democracy.

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