The long-awaited United Nations Conference on Climate Change kicked off this morning on the idyllic island of Bali, where some 10,000 delegates from 187 nations will spend the next two weeks discussing how to reach an international agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
International governments are now feeling the pressure for urgent action on climate change as the world watches in hope of a Bali breakthrough. At the opening address of the conference, Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister and newly appointed president of the thirteenth session of the conference of parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP13) said “We now have a better understanding of the complexity of the climate problem. What we need is political will. I hope that Bali can deliver the breakthrough the world is waiting for”.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, described the mood as “very upbeat and encouraging”. He highlighted Pakistan’s statement on behalf of the G77 member states and China indicating their willingness to engage in international dialogue on climate change.
Up until now, failure of two of the world’s largest industrialised nations, the US and Australia, to ratify the Kyoto Protocol has been seen by many as a major obstacle to its success. And buy-in from both nations is believed to be crucial to agreeing a workable ‘son of Kyoto’.
One day into the talks…and half of that goal has already been achieved. Newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who defeated conservative leader John Howard nine days ago, today pledged to ratify Kyoto just hours after being sworn in. Rudd also announced his intention to attend the talks in Bali next week.
De Boer described the response from delegates to the news as “an emotional and spontaneous reaction to a very significant decision on the part of the Australian government” . He said that “the long applause reflected people’s appreciation for Australia to engage even more strongly internationally on climate change”.
But achieving the other half is likely to prove much more difficult. The shift in Australia’s stance will undoubtedly leave the US feeling out in the cold in Bali, but not enough to pressurise the Bush administration to change its stance on ratifying Kyoto.
Responding to the announcement, Harlan Watson, US Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative, said today in Bali that it was “up to each individual nation how to move forward” and that the US “respected the decisions of other nations and likewise expected them to respect their decision”.
Watson wouldn’t comment on what the US may be willing to agree to, but said that that it “wants a regime that is both environmentally friendly and economically viable” and that any agreement must “include all major emitters and developed and developing nations”.
Judging from various statements made at the plenary session this morning, it seems that many expect the Bali conference to lead to a very general rather than detailed roadmap on how to proceed on climate change over the next two years. While this may be the only way to get the US on board, it hardly seems like the urgent international response that it being called for. While the EU is very strongly in favour of binding international commitments that can be monitored, President Bush has made it clear that he favours a voluntary approach to cutting greenhouse gases.
But some believe that whatever the US says in Bali will be largely irrelevant, given the forthcoming presidential elections next November.
More delegates are expected to arrive in Bali next week, when any agreements will be finalised, including former US vice –president and Nobel laureate Al Gore and Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the meantime, I’ll be keeping you updated with daily posts direct from the talks in Bali here on Climate Feedback.