US isolated as Bali plots route to low-carbon world

Nations agreed to begin talks on a new international treaty for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, to be ready by the end of 2009. But US obstruction suggests these negotiations will not be easy.

A day late, and after two weeks of fraught negotiations, more than 180 countries agreed on the scope of talks that will result in a new international treaty to tackle climate change by the end of 2009.

The "Bali Roadmap" contains no targets for cuts in rising global emissions of greenhouse gases. But it does include a mandate to negotiate new binding objectives for developed countries, including the US - something the Bush administration has steadfastly opposed. And, importantly, it brings developing countries into the process by requiring "measurable, reportable, and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation actions" from them.

The document may not specify targets, but it does recognise that any future agreement will have to deliver "deep cuts in global emissions". And it points to a footnote that indicates these cuts should be in line with the advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The latest IPCC assessments concluded that developed country emissions should fall by between 25% and 40% by 2020, and 50% to 85% by 2050 to keep temperature rises below 2°C (ENDS Report 388, pp 10-11).

Other key areas for negotiation identified include funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change, technology transfer and halting deforestation.

The roadmap sets a deadline of the end of 2009 to conclude the talks. This should give time for governments to ratify the new treaty to allow it to come into force in 2013 when the existing commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire.

Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was pleased with the outcome. "Bali has delivered what it needed to deliver: a very ambitious agenda going forward," he said. "It’s ambitious because the roadmap very clearly refers to the ranges [of emissions cuts] and the underlying level of ambition that goes with these ranges that the IPCC has been pointing to."

UK Environment Minister Hilary Benn said, "This is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward. For the first time ever all the world’s nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change concluding in 2009."

But NGOs were not so impressed. "The level of ambition in the agreement still does not match the urgent need," said Antonio Hill of Oxfam. "Without a clear range for the global emissions cuts needed, this deal fails to keep us from the brink of exceeding 2°C of warming."

US isolated
There is little doubt that the agreement would have been much more ambitious were it not for the stance of the US. Throughout the conference the EU, backed by other Kyoto signatories and some developing countries, repeatedly attempted to include a commitment for developed countries to cut their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and for global emissions cuts of 50% by 2050. But the US - backed by Canada, Japan and Russia - refused to accept any reference to the level of cuts required.

Similarly, the US refused to countenance any agreement that did not require action on the part of big developing countries, who in turn insisted that developed countries take the lead.

"The G77 [group of developing countries] has no obligation under the [UN] convention to accept binding targets," said Munir Akram of Pakistan. "Our measures will be voluntary, they’ll be national, and they’ll be in the context of sustainable development."

This led to deadlock. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon returned to Bali the morning after the talks were due to end, and pleaded for a breakthrough. "I am very disappointed at the lack of progress," he said. "I appeal to you to make the necessary agreement now, to not risk all that you have achieved so far."

Eventually Japan, Canada and Russia accepted a compromise text that removed any reference to the level of cuts required by developed countries and did not commit developing countries to binding reductions. The US then found itself completely isolated when all other parties backed this agreement. In startlingly undiplomatic behaviour, the US delegation was booed three times by the conference.

Papua New Guinea’s representative bluntly said: "We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, then please leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way." Moments later the US, unwilling to take the blame for the collapse of the talks, performed a U-turn and accepted the agreement.

But before the day was out, the White House issued a statement critical of the agreement it had just signed, indicating that the next two years’ negotiations will be difficult. "The US does have serious concerns about [the roadmap]," it said. "The problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone… We must give sufficient emphasis to the important and appropriate role that the larger-emitting developing countries should play."

Kyoto signatories push forward
Meanwhile, parallel negotiations on future commitments for ‘Annex I’ developed country signatories to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol made better progress. These talks did not include the US, which is now the only developed nation not to have joined the protocol after Australia, in the wake of a post-election change of government, came on board just before the Bali meeting.

The outcome of these negotiations was a text that included reference to a 25-40% cut for developed countries by 2020, a need for global emissions to peak and then decline within the next ten to 15 years, and a global cut in emissions of "well below half of levels in 2000 by the middle of the 21st century".

Canada and Russia initially opposed the text. But when Australia, signed up to the numbers they backed down - even though Canada’s environment Minister John Baird said his country would be unable to meet the targets.

"This is an extremely positive indication of what the world is capable of doing when the Bush administration is removed from the table," said Keith Allot, head of Climate Change at WWF-UK. "It’s an inspiration for leading the roadmap forward and shows that if we all stand together -the progressive rich nations, shoulder to shoulder with the developing countries and the emerging giants of China and India - we can make the important decisions that need to be made."

What did they agree?
The Bali roadmap, and supporting documents, set out an agenda for negotiations to result in an agreement that could be adopted at the UN climate Summit in Copenhagen in November 2009.

It sets up a new "Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Co-operative Action" to lead the negotiations forward "without delay". This group will meet four times in 2008 beginning in March.

Apart from new binding targets for developed countries and the scale of action required from developing countries, the roadmap includes the building blocks for a new international agreement addressing the issues of adaptation, technology transfer, financing, sectoral agreements and deforestation.

  • Adaptation to climate change: In Bali nations thrashed out the details of the Kyoto Protocol’s adaptation fund. This facility that will now start in 2008 is funded by a 2% levy on internationally traded Kyoto emission reduction credits and is expected to be worth several hundreds of millions of dollars by 2012.
  • Future negotiations will decide on the practicalities of introducing adaptation into national policies, for example through vulnerability assessments, capacity building and economic diversification. They will also have to secure additional funding; the costs of adaptation will run to billions of dollars.

  • Technology transfer: This element should see increased action on developing and transferring technology from developed to developing countries to help the latter reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

    Governments agreed to focus on demonstration programmes. They also aim to make it more attractive for the private sector to invest in low-carbon solutions and remove obstacles to their transfer to developing countries.

  • Financing: Both the above elements will be supported by more funding, particularly for developing countries. This will include increasing both public and private investment flows to give them "improved access to adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources and financial and technical support."

    The agreed text does not expand on where this extra funding will come from, but it suggests "using markets to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions." In other words, emissions trading.

  • International sectoral agreements: The roadmap also calls on parties to begin work on "cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions" to cut emissions.

    This is in response to developed country - especially EU - concerns over the competitiveness impacts of unilateral emissions reductions measures on vulnerable energy-intensive sectors like aluminium, cement and steel.

    The EU is reluctant to demand big cuts in emissions from these industries for fear they will simply relocate to less regulated areas of the world (ENDS Reports 389, pp 30-33 ).

    But securing meaningful global reductions from these sectors will be a difficult, slow process. The steel sector has only just begun collecting data on its emissions, and tentative discussions on benchmarking performance have met fierce opposition from producers in big developing countries like China.

  • Deforestation: One of the early wins at the Bali conference was an agreement on the role that preventing deforestation can play in preventing rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Gaining recognition for avoiding deforestation had been a key priority of some major developing countries like Brazil, India and Indonesia.

    The so-called "reducing deforestation in developing countries" (REDD) agreement is a two-pronged approach that over the next two years, should see the development of policies and incentives to prevent deforestation while conducting research into sustainable forest management and conservation. A key element will be a series of demonstration projects tackling the drivers of deforestation. It could eventually see countries being paid not to exploit their natural forests.

  • Clean Development Mechanism: The conference also made some important decisions opening up the Kyoto protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism to carbon capture and storage (CCS) and increasing the size of small-scale afforestation projects.

    Including CCS will be controversial as this technology will generate many emission reduction credits that could swamp the market and squeeze out other - especially smaller -projects.The negotiations on the Indonesian island of Bali were the most fraught since the first climate treaty, the UNFCCC, was agreed in 1992. They also over-ran the longest.

    The success of Bali has been in building a global coalition in favour of action in spite of US intransigence. The signals from the White House are that the Bush administration will continue to act as a brake on proceedings and a breakthrough is unlikely until there is a new US president in November 2008.

    This will result in a backloading of the agenda and make securing an agreement by 2009 even more difficult. The Kyoto Protocol, with a narrower agenda and a willing White House, took longer than this to negotiate.

    The key question is whether nations will be able to make enough headway on the issues over the next year to give a reasonable prospect of success in Copenhagen, less than two years from now. Success means an international treaty which can actually succeed in sharply reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

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