At the end of a gruelling two weeks of talks in Bali, marked by heated arguments, threats of trade sanctions and boycotts, and even tears, a deal was finally reached on how to proceed on climate negotiations over the next two years.
As the talks went into overtime on Saturday, throngs of journalists sat it out in the sweltering media tent, waiting for some news of an agreement. And as the minutes passed, many involved in the talks feared a deal would not be reached.
But in a historic moment that involved developing countries taking a united stand against the US, who blocked progress over the two weeks of the talks, a deal was agreed. The memorable moment came when, in midst of discussions on the level of financial commitment required from developed nations on assisting technology transfer, Papua New Guinea’s representative, Kevin Conrad said defiantly to the US “If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way”.
The US conceded and joined the consensus. Only a day later, though, and reports are circulating that the US has backtracked on this pledge. White House press secretary, Dana Perino, said it has “serious concerns” about the agreement and that the “problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone.”
A major dispensation from other nations to keep the US at the table involved the removal of a specific reference to targets for emissions reductions from the preamble. The reference, which was strongly supported by the EU and developing nations, recognised the need for developed countries to have deep cuts in emissions of 25-40% of 1990 levels by 2020. But the final document merely recognized “the urgency to address climate change as indicated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” with a footnote to the latest IPCC report.
The footnote refers to tables showing the emissions reductions needed for various stabilization scenarios, including the need to slash emissions by 25-40% to stabilize at 450 ppm CO2e, which scientists regard as being necessary if we are to have any chance of averting ‘dangerous climate change’ or more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming.
Some feel that removal of the numerical reference from the text means that the Bali roadmap lacks substance, whereas others say that what is important here is having an agreement that includes all nations – and that has an end date for negotiations after the current US administration leaves office.
Whether Bali has only succeeded in bringing the world’s largest emitter back to the table at the expense of achieving real emissions reductions remains to be seen.