Players and plays in the Bali climate drama

Mar 08

With
48 hrs to go before the Bali climate conference comes to a close, it is
now universally expected that the COP (Conference of Parties) 13 will
produced a watered-down “Bali Roadmap” that reflects countries bending
over backward again to seduce the United States to join a post-Kyoto
multilateral process to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

The expected declaration is supposed to get the parties to agree to
hammer out the details of a negotiating framework by COP 14 in Poland
in 2008 and to come out with a final agreement by COP 15 in Denmark in
2009. It is also expected to contain a reference to a 25 to 40 per cent
cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, though Yvo de
Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCC) was quick to disavow that this was “not a
target.”

Australia Rejoins the Fold

The opening of the “high-level segment” of the meeting, which has been
going on for nearly 10 days, was marked by a dramatic appearance by
Australia’s Prime Minister of 10 days Kevin Rudd, who personally
delivered his country’s instrument of ratification of the Kyoto
Protocol to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Under the
previous government of John Howard, Australia had allied itself with
the United States in not ratifying the protocol. As if making up for
the sins of his predecessor, Rudd voiced his support for a new
multilateral agreement with binding emission targets and promised a 60
per cent GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction by 2050 from 1990 levels for
his country. “There is no Plan B,” he told the participants. “There is
no escaping to another planet.”

Some climate activists, however, have not been swept away by Rudd,
complaining that his words still have to be reflected in the behavior
of Australia’s negotiators in Bali, who are said to be imprisoned in
the obstructionist paradigm of the Howard regime.

Obstructionists Inc.

The repeated urging by speaker after speaker for binding targets
contrasted with the background realities of continued absence of a
positive attitude on the part of the US, obstructionism on the part of
Canada, which has replaced Australia as George W. Bush’s closest
ideological ally, and Japan’s ill-concealed backtracking from mandatory
emission cuts owing to strong pressure from Japanese industry. On the
other hand, China and the Group of 77 have struck some longtime
observers of the Kyoto process as projecting an attitude of being
willing to do their share if the developed world was ready to decree
meaningful GHG cuts and finance the development and transfer of
technology to assist the developing countries to achieve the transition
to a low-carbon economy.

North-South

North-South tensions have been high, and on Tuesday, Dec 11, talks
broke down on three issues, one of them being on the key problem of
transfer of technology to assist countries of the South cope with
global warming. The transfer of technology talks broke down over
whether to use the term “facilitate” as the developing countries
wanted, or “program,” the preferred word of the North, according to
Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, chairman of the Group of 77 and China
bloc. According to one developing country deputy environmental minister
who did not wish to be identified, “the US has sent dinosaurs to these
negotiations, and that’s why we’re stalemated on 80 per cent of the
issues.” Washington is the bete noire in Bali, and none are more
frustrated than US climate change activists who constantly apologize
for the Bush administration’s intransigence.

Intra-Group of 77 differences, while much less visible, have not been
absent. Malaysia, for instance, surprised developing country delegates
at the beginning of the negotiations when its representative appeared
to hew to the US line that it wanted an institutional outcome to the
negotiations that was “flexible” and “non-binding.” At a side-event
sponsored by the government of India on Wednesday, Dec. 12, one speaker
suggested that commitments to GHG emission cuts would depend on whether
a country belonged to the OECD or rich-country bloc, to the developing
world, or to a third category made up of “one big country.” This was
obviously a reference to China, whose presence in the Group of 77 bloc
has made many–especially the smaller island countries that are
clamoring for emergency aid to meet the sea-level rise that is already
drowning them–uncomfortable since they see their interests as being
entangled in the dynamics of the negotiations between the North and
China. The rich countries want China, which is on track to surpass the
United States as the biggest GHG emitter and is experiencing record but
environmentally destabilizing economic growth, to be eventually
included in a regime of mandatory emission reductions. The same demand
has been made, though not as strongly, with respect to India and Brazil.

Big Business Roars in

Bali will probably be remembered as the conference where big business
came to climate change in big way. A significant number of the side
events have focused on market solutions to the 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. UN officials justify
the greater private sector presence by saying that 84 per cent of the
$50 billion needed to combat climate change in the next few years will
need to come from the private sector and the latter needs to be
“incentivized.”

Climate change activists have been appalled and stunned by the business
takeover of the climate change discourse. One Indian activist walked
out of a session on “linking emissions trading markets” muttering, “I
can’t believe it. These guys have their own specialized jargon. I did
not understand one word of what they were saying.”

According to Kevin Smith of the Durban Network on Climate Justice, “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.” Smith and others claim that the carbon market as a
solution is a panacea that 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.

World Bank Provokes Protests

The World Bank has had a major presence at the conference. This has not
been to the liking of many parties. For over a week, negotiators
haggled over the mechanism to manage funds that would go towards
assisting countries that were on the frontline of the climate crisis.
The developed countries wanted the World Bank to act as trustee for the
funds and the Bank-managed Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to serve
as the administrator for the funds. This did not please the developing
country governments, which have had many negative experiences with Bank
control of the GEF. The impasse was resolved only when the negotiating
parties agreed to establish an “Adaptation Fund Board,” composed mainly
of developing states, that would oversee the administration of the
funds by the GEF.

An even bigger reaction greeted the Bank’s launching of its $160
million Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which is designed to use
market mechanisms to compensate developing countries with large tracts
of forest, including host country Indonesia, for not cutting them down.
Some 100 activists staged a one-hour-long lightning demonstration at
the Grand Hyatt Hotel that put Bank President Robert Zoellick on the
defensive. The protestors, which included members of the Indonesian
Civil Society Forum, Friends of the Earth International, World
Rainforest Movement, Global Forest Coalition, Jubilee South, the Durban
Group on Climate Justice, and Focus on the Global South, warned that
incorporating forests into the carbon market would simply guarantee
their passing into the hands of big private interests.

Of special concern to the protestors was the fate of indigenous
communities. The proposed Bank facility, they warned in a statement,
“could trigger further displacement, conflict, and violence. As forests
themselves increase in value, they [would be] declared ‘off limits’ to
communities that live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods.”

Global Civil Society Erupts into the Scene

The mass action against Zoellick within the conference site underlined
another reason Bali will be remembered. It marked the entry of the
global justice movement into the climate change negotiations. The
meeting was attended not only by civil society organizations working on
trade and development like Oxfam and the World Development Movement but
also by mass movement networks like Via Campesina and Jubilee South. A
venue called Solidarity Village for a Cool Planet less than a kilometer
from the conference site was organized by the Indonesian Civil Society
Forum to serve as a site for a parallel conference that drew hundreds
of participants. Representatives of environmental refugees from the
Pacific Islands, indigenous peoples threatened by forest carbon trading
schemes, and farmers from Via Campesina were among those who
participated in the week-long gathering.

The eruption into the scene of trade justice and development activists
brought a conflictive World Trade Organization ministerial-like
atmosphere to the negotiations that had formerly been marked by a civil
if not chummy relationship between government negotiators and climate
lobbyists. “This opening up of the process to folks who are bringing
new issues like trade and justice and people’s empowerment into the
equation has been a bit disconcerting to the traditional climate NGOs,”
said Emma Brindal of Friends of the Earth-Australia.

“Climate Justice” was the call that united the groups at the Solidarity
Village. In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the
participants stated: “By climate justice, we understand that countries
and sectors that have contributed the most to the climate crisis — the
rich countries and transnational corporations of the North — must pay
the cost of ensuring that all peoples and future generations can live
in a healthy and just world, respecting the ecological limits of the
planet. In Bali, we took another step towards building a global
movement for climate justice.”

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