After pulling a dramatic all-nighter, delegates at the U.N. conference on climate change left beautiful, lush Bali for the real world with an agreed text on their laptops. Those of us who follow these matters were not the least bit surprised at the result: U.N. officials and others who wanted an international consensus for greenhouse-gas emissions spoke glowingly of success. All delegations signed on, and the text looks forward to eventual deep emissions cuts.
But the realists and the environmentalists (including Al Gore, who flew in to denounce the U.S., to wild applause) were bitterly disappointed, saying that nothing really had changed. Why? Because their hope was for agreement on specific targets, a 25-40 percent cut. They fought and nearly bled for that to get into the final text, but the United States held out against naming specific targets and won. Its delegate was roundly booed until she agreed to sign a consensus statement and theoretically join “the process” but without targets.
The U.S. carried the burden of the villain but was actually backed by Canada and Japan, as I reported in my Daily Article on this website a few days ago. Australia, trying to find its identity under its new government, also apparently does not want targets. And there’s a report, unconfirmed, that Russia worked behind the scenes to scuttle any agreement on targets, apparently enjoying its role keeping Europe dependent on Russian energy supplies and thus politically weakened.
Furthermore, the really “inconvenient truth” is that the U.S. is doing better at controlling its own emissions than are the Europeans, and that no country is really willing to take on the economic damage that an emissions-restriction regime would cause. A whiff of hypocrisy is in the verbal wind. It is convenient for them to blame the U.S. for their own failings.
So what next? The Bush government has called a conference of the major emitting nations for Hawaii next month to work on flexible and voluntary targets, tailored to different nations’ needs. The E.U. at Bali threatened to boycott the Hawaii meeting unless the U.S. agreed at Bali to targets. That blackmail failed, and now we’ll see whether the E.U. people will show up in Hawaii or risk being left out of this process, parallel to the U.N. track, which may produce some important agreements.
As for the “main track” U.N. process, it goes on, of course: next stop Copenhagen 2009.
P.S. to my blog post on the Pope’s World Day of Peace address: Papal statements are known for careful nuance and balance, and this one was no exception. The Daily Mail report stressed only one side. Benedict did acknowledge the climate problem and call for addressing it. But he also made, more importantlin my judgment, the points I stressed: that hyperbolic alarmism is dangerous, that ideology should not override science, and that environmental decisions should not override real human need.
P.S. #2, on reading statistics with a viewpoint: The World Meteorological Organization reports that 2007 was one of the ten hottest years on record, most of those ten years being in the last decade. But it also seems that 2007 is on track to be the coldest year since 1998, the year of the large El NiÃ±o surge. And those who watch the sun’s behavior report a quiescent period with no sun spots, possibly presaging the return of a cooler earth - even, heaven forbid, a period like the “little ice age” of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Naturally, no mention of this happened at Bali.