Home Magazines Features What Happened At The Bali Convention On Climate Change?

What Happened At The Bali Convention On Climate Change?

What Happened At The Bali Convention On Climate Change?

Burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity, run automobiles and industries contributes immensely to the carbon dioxide emissions globally. The resistance to the Kyoto Protocol shown by the United States and Australia has sent out the wrong message to developing countries, resulting in blatant violation of environmental laws in the name of economic growth. The end result, of course, is an exponential decay in Earth’s capacity to combat climate change.Photograph by Gautam Pandey.

The following Sanctuary report on the proceedings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),held in Bali, Indonesia in early December 2007, is provided in a Q&A format:

What is the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hosted by the U.N. on the Indonesian island of Bali from December 3-14, 2007. Presided over by the Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, with support from the U.N.’s climate change secretariat, the UNFCCC meet was attended by delegates from more than 180 nations, as well as observers from intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations. The goal of the meeting was to negotiate a “road map” leading to the creation of a new international climate change pact to succeed the Kyoto protocol, due to expire in 2012.

What is the Kyoto protocol?

The Kyoto protocol is an international, legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It was agreed to by 174 nations at a U.N. conference held in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, and came into force in February 2005. The agreement stipulated that greenhouse gases emitted by developed countries should be reduced to at least five per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Who did not sign the Kyoto protocol?

The United States, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, opposed the Kyoto protocol in 2001, claiming that it would be too expensive to implement, and that it should include targets for developing nations as well. Australia also refused to sign the protocol, but the new Prime Minister-elect, Kevin Rudd, has stated that he hopes his new government will ratify Kyoto immediately.

Why is a new climate change pact needed?

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in a systematic series of studies conducted around the world by thousands of scientists, has stated that it is “clear beyond doubt that climate change is a reality” and an obvious threat to the world’s economies, societies and ecosystems. The IPCC has documented climate change effects that are already being felt, including warming of the Arctic, which is occurring at twice the global average. The panel says that if no action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the earth’s temperature could rise by 4.50C or more. With the retreat of glaciers, and the global rate of deforestation and desertification, water supplies around the world will increasingly be at risk, and many regions will suffer from floods, sea level rise, drought, extreme weather events, food insecurity and mass human migrations.

What was the Bali conference meant to achieve?

The main goal of the UNFCCC was not to hammer out a fully negotiated climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol, but rather to lay a framework for the upcoming negotiations in 2012. Parties needed to agree on critical points that the new agreement should cover, e.g. mitigation (such as reducing emissions caused by deforestation), adaptation to climate change, technology and financing.

What was agreed to in Bali?

There was sharp disagreement about the inclusion of tough emission targets recommended by the IPCC, requiring a 25-40 per cent reduction in emissions by industrialised countries by 2020, and a 50 percent reduction in overall emissions worldwide by 2050. These targets were supported by the European Union. Under pressure from the U.S., which continues to oppose greenhouse gas emissions caps (the Bush administration does not want to hurt U.S. oil, gas and coal industries, and does not appear to believe emissions targets are reachable), the parties abandoned setting any firm goal for worldwide emission reductions and left open the possibility that developed countries could avoid individual caps on their emissions. The U.S., and increasingly Canada and Japan, want developing countries to curb emissions in exchange for reducing their own, and despite objections from many governments of developing countries that are upset at being asked to help clean up a mess largely created by the industrialised nations, the Bali agreement does contain language urging developed countries to consider ways to limit their output of greenhouse gases.

India objected to the watered-down draft, saying that it did not require industrialised nations to aid developing countries in controlling their emissions with technology and funding. India and China have huge coal reserves and show every intention of planning to use them to achieve rapid growth. China is expanding its coal-burning capacity at a rapid rate, and maintains that since the U.S. and other developed countries became wealthy on cheap fossil fuels, it should be able to as well.

The Bali agreement was eventually agreed to unanimously, and sets the stage for two years of negotiations to create a new formal climate treaty to succeed Kyoto. The next phase of talks is scheduled to begin in April and hopefully conclude in Copenhagen in late 2009.

Developing nations such as India could benefit immensely by the proposal forwarded at Bali for issuing carbon credits as “compensated reductions” for avoided deforestation. By curbing indiscriminate destruction of forests, India can significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases while simultaneously safeguarding the country’s water sources, food security, coastal fisheries, biodiversity and countless other forest-generated services that its economy fails to measure.Photograph by Dr. Anish Andheria.

What is the role of forests, and what can India do?

The IPCC has stated that forests play an enormous role in mitigating the effects of climate change by acting as carbon sinks. The Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) concluded that deforestation causes 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Kyoto protocol, “sequestration” (planting forests for carbon capture) was eligible for carbon credits, but “storage” (conserving forests as carbon sinks) was not. Kyoto did nothing to stand in the way of the world’s inclination to continue deforestation and ignored the contribution to climate change mitigation inherent in afforestation.

It has been estimated that deforestation and degradation of India’s forests was the cause of over 25 per cent of India’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2002-2003. By comparison, India’s energy sector released only slightly more CO2 in 2005-2006. At compliance market prices of $20-25 per tonne,
reducing its deforestation and forest degradation could earn India $8-12 billion per year.

At Bali, a proposal for issuing carbon credits as “compensated reductions” for avoided deforestation and forest degradation at a national level was tabled. Unfortunately, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) denies that deforestation and forest degradation are occurring in India (regarding the Forest Rights Act and approval for cutting three million trees in 2008). Therefore, India can earn nothing from the proposals being tabled to reward carbon storage, which, in addition to significantly mitigating India’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions would simultaneously protect the country’s water sources, food security, coastal fisheries, biodiversity and countless other forest-generated services that India’s economy fails to measure.

by Sanctuary report, Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXVIII. No. 1. February 2008.


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