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Was the science sidelined in Bali? (updated)

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.

Olive Heffernan


  1. Report this comment

    JSleeper said:

    This is one of those rare occasions where I agree with something the Bush Administration said. Because it’s also consistent with our stance going all the way back to the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which was unanimously approved by the Senate. The Resolution stated that the United States will not be a party to any climate change treaty that does not include emissions limits on developing countries. Seeing as how China and India have more than erased any limited progress from the Kyoto Accords, they were actually right for a change.

    If this is truly an global problem, then everybody must reduce emissions. China is now the largest CO2 emitter. By ignoring them, any efforts will come to naught.

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    Steven Earl Salmony said:

    Yes, definitely yes, the science of climate change and Earth’s ecology have been sidelined by the "big-business interests of selfish elites who exert control of huge concentrations of financial wealth as well as people with political and militaristic power.

    The “powers that be” are evidently in denial of reality and unwilling to openly and honorably express their understanding of what 2000 IPCC Nobel Laureate scientists are reporting with regard to the ominous, distinctly human-induced predicament that is looming before the human community. That many too many politicians and economic powerbrokers adamantly support the soon to become unsustainable global enterprise of endless big-business expansion, does not favor our children’s well-being or safety, I believe. These leaders appear to have pledged their primary allegiance and reverent devotion to the short-term ‘successes’ of unbridled economic globalization, regardless of the long-term potential for catastrophe that such a recklessly unrestrained and unrealistic pursuit portends. For leaders of the political economy to conspicuously ignore the carefully and skillfully obtained scientific evidence on climate change, and global warming in particular, is an incomprehensible failure with potentially profound implications for the future of our children.

    Plainly, what is necessary now is clarity of vision, intellectual honesty and courage as well as a willingness among leaders to begin “centering” their attention on the probability of threat(s) to humanity that could soon be posed by the gigantic scale and patently unsustainable growth rate of the over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human population worldwide in our time.

    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

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    Alexander Ač said:

    Ignoring China? Guess, who buys vast majority of chinese products? Yes, Europe and US. So, stop buying chinese products…


    There is also another question. Does EVERY problem have a (peaceful) solution?

  4. Report this comment

    Steven Earl Salmony said:


    Does how “I feel” about the predicament regarding the human-induced global challenges that are already visible on the far horizon have any meaning at all or value? So what?

    There is a light at the end of a tunnel covering the “primrose path” we have set out for our children to march along to reach their future. I think magically and also remain somehow wishful for the children’s long-term wellbeing, for environmental protection and preserving Earth’s body; however, please understand that deep within me is a keen sense of foreboding for the children because the light at the end of the tunnel appears, at this very moment, to be moving toward all of us.

    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

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    Mac Callaway said:

    The main problem with the UNFCCC’s approach to climate change is the UN.

    The way in which the UN is organized makes it very difficult to solve Global problems when: 1) the private benefits and costs of these solutions are unevenly distributed amongst the national members and 2) the solutions implicitly involve re-assigning property rights.

    I’m not sure these two problems aren’t showstoppers under any other global regime than dictatorship, but I’ll leave this up to the theoreticians.

    The UN should get out of the climate business and something like the G-8 ought to take over. Such an organization has much broader tool kit of incentives and taxes to induce emissions reductions and punish non-compliance; it can put a much wider variety of benefits on the table to exchange for emissions reduction (trade, foreign policy, immigration, interantional security, etc.); a nation does not have to belong to or ratify (or not ratify) anything to receive the benefits or feel the costs of G-8 actions, and finally, if you turn it into the G-10, it has almost all the world’s largest emission sources as partners.

  6. Report this comment

    Steven Earl Salmony said:

    Six million people to 6 billion people! That looks to me like unbridled, near exponential growth of absolute human numbers worldwide our the past several thousand years, with most of that growth occurring very recently. If we go from 6 billion people to 9 billion by 2050, as is projected by the UN Population Division, and people continue to conspicuously consume Earth’s finite resources as we are ravenously doing now, what will be left to sustain the life as we know it for our children and their children, let alone coming generations?

    Are our current leaders missing something vital for future of life, human wellbeing and environmental health.

    Perhaps someone can take a moment to explain how a great democracy of 300 million good people becomes perverted by a tiny, selfish confederacy of wealthy and politically powerful dunces?

    Steven Earl Salmony

    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

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    Gary Braasch said:

    In the end the roadmap has a lot of active words in it – the word ”urgently” appears twice in the first nine lines — and it clearly repeats the IPCC’s warning that delay in reducing emissions risks severe effects. However, the roadmap is not to begin these cuts; it is about TALKING about them. It launches a process toward adapting a decision on them by the 2009 conference in Copenhagen. The plan agreed on then would not take effect until after the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. That probably really means 2013. Five years from now.

    It is going to be very hard for the Climate Convention to agree within two years on strict greenhouse gas limits plus all the other parts of the work including adapting to changes already happening and the financial and technical arrangements that are required.

    But as no one in Bali could fail to understand from the IPCC reports, no region of the world is free from climate changes now, and dangers along the seacoasts where so many millions live are acute. I wonder if any nations will be willing, looking forward to a new American leadership, to push the start date of Convention wide cuts to 2010?

    Future talks and plans are also going to have to acknowledge China’s dual role as the largest developing nation and the number 2 (or number 1) greenhouse polluter. China has millions of people in poverty who deserve a better future, but it might be said that in climate negotiations it hides behind them to obscure its huge industrial responsibility. India will over take China in population if trends continue, and is also defacto in both developing and developed status.

    These and other developing nations have now agreed to discuss mitigating their emissions. So the Convention – probably lead by a refocused U.S. and the EU – will have to engage with China and India with carefully crafted technology transfer and targeted development and adaptation plans. Of course, these nations have much to deliver from their own industrial and development base. But even more urgently the world needs the U.S. to refocus and respond with all its power.

    Gary Braasch

    Author of Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World.

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