Players and plays in the Bali climate drama

13 December 2007
While it is expected that the Bali climate conference will produce nothing more than a watered-down “Bali roadmap” to seduce the United States to join a post-Kyoto multilateral process to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, the conference also marks the entry of the global justice movement into the climate change negotiations.

With 48 hrs to go before the Bali climate conference comes to a close, it is now universally expected that the COP (Conference of Parties) 13 will produced a watered-down “Bali Roadmap” that reflects countries bending over backward again to seduce the United States to join a post-Kyoto multilateral process to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.

The expected declaration is supposed to get the parties to agree to hammer out the details of a negotiating framework by COP 14 in Poland in 2008 and to come out with a final agreement by COP 15 in Denmark in 2009. It is also expected to contain a reference to a 25 to 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, though Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was quick to disavow that this was “not a target.”

Australia Rejoins the Fold

The opening of the “high-level segment” of the meeting, which has been going on for nearly 10 days, was marked by a dramatic appearance by Australia’s Prime Minister of 10 days Kevin Rudd, who personally delivered his country’s instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Under the previous government of John Howard, Australia had allied itself with the United States in not ratifying the protocol. As if making up for the sins of his predecessor, Rudd voiced his support for a new multilateral agreement with binding emission targets and promised a 60 per cent GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction by 2050 from 1990 levels for his country. “There is no Plan B,” he told the participants. “There is no escaping to another planet.”

Some climate activists, however, have not been swept away by Rudd, complaining that his words still have to be reflected in the behavior of Australia’s negotiators in Bali, who are said to be imprisoned in the obstructionist paradigm of the Howard regime.

Obstructionists Inc.

The repeated urging by speaker after speaker for binding targets contrasted with the background realities of continued absence of a positive attitude on the part of the US, obstructionism on the part of Canada, which has replaced Australia as George W. Bush’s closest ideological ally, and Japan’s ill-concealed backtracking from mandatory emission cuts owing to strong pressure from Japanese industry. On the other hand, China and the Group of 77 have struck some longtime observers of the Kyoto process as projecting an attitude of being willing to do their share if the developed world was ready to decree meaningful GHG cuts and finance the development and transfer of technology to assist the developing countries to achieve the transition to a low-carbon economy.

North-South

North-South tensions have been high, and on Tuesday, Dec 11, talks broke down on three issues, one of them being on the key problem of transfer of technology to assist countries of the South cope with global warming. The transfer of technology talks broke down over whether to use the term “facilitate” as the developing countries wanted, or “program,” the preferred word of the North, according to Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, chairman of the Group of 77 and China bloc. According to one developing country deputy environmental minister who did not wish to be identified, “the US has sent dinosaurs to these negotiations, and that’s why we’re stalemated on 80 per cent of the issues.” Washington is the bete noire in Bali, and none are more frustrated than US climate change activists who constantly apologize for the Bush administration’s intransigence.

Intra-Group of 77 differences, while much less visible, have not been absent. Malaysia, for instance, surprised developing country delegates at the beginning of the negotiations when its representative appeared to hew to the US line that it wanted an institutional outcome to the negotiations that was “flexible” and “non-binding.” At a side-event sponsored by the government of India on Wednesday, Dec. 12, one speaker suggested that commitments to GHG emission cuts would depend on whether a country belonged to the OECD or rich-country bloc, to the developing world, or to a third category made up of “one big country.” This was obviously a reference to China, whose presence in the Group of 77 bloc has made many--especially the smaller island countries that are clamoring for emergency aid to meet the sea-level rise that is already drowning them--uncomfortable since they see their interests as being entangled in the dynamics of the negotiations between the North and China. The rich countries want China, which is on track to surpass the United States as the biggest GHG emitter and is experiencing record but environmentally destabilizing economic growth, to be eventually included in a regime of mandatory emission reductions. The same demand has been made, though not as strongly, with respect to India and Brazil.

Big Business Roars in

Bali will probably be remembered as the conference where big business came to climate change in big way. A significant number of the side events have focused on market solutions to the GHG problem such as emissions trading arrangements. Under such schemes, GHG intensive countries can “offset” their emissions by paying non-GHG intensive countries to forego pollution-intensive activities, with the market serving as the mediator. Shell and other big-time polluters have been making the rounds touting the market as the prime solution to the climate crisis, a position that articulates well with the US position against mandatory emission cuts set by government. UN officials justify the greater private sector presence by saying that 84 per cent of the $50 billion needed to combat climate change in the next few years will need to come from the private sector and the latter needs to be “incentivized.”

Climate change activists have been appalled and stunned by the business takeover of the climate change discourse. One Indian activist walked out of a session on “linking emissions trading markets” muttering, “I can’t believe it. These guys have their own specialized jargon. I did not understand one word of what they were saying.”

According to Kevin Smith of the Durban Network on Climate Justice, “The carbon market was originally a very minor part of the architecture of climate architecture, one that climate activists agreed to in order to get the US on board the Kyoto express. Well, the US did not get on board, and we are now stuck with carbon markets driving the process since the corporations have found that there is money to be made from climate change.” Smith and others claim that the carbon market as a solution is a panacea that will merely allow polluters in the North to keep on polluting while allowing private interests in the South to displace smallholders so they can set up unmonitored and unregulated tree plantations that are supposed to absorb carbon dioxide.

World Bank Provokes Protests

The World Bank has had a major presence at the conference. This has not been to the liking of many parties. For over a week, negotiators haggled over the mechanism to manage funds that would go towards assisting countries that were on the frontline of the climate crisis. The developed countries wanted the World Bank to act as trustee for the funds and the Bank-managed Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to serve as the administrator for the funds. This did not please the developing country governments, which have had many negative experiences with Bank control of the GEF. The impasse was resolved only when the negotiating parties agreed to establish an “Adaptation Fund Board,” composed mainly of developing states, that would oversee the administration of the funds by the GEF.

An even bigger reaction greeted the Bank’s launching of its $160 million Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, which is designed to use market mechanisms to compensate developing countries with large tracts of forest, including host country Indonesia, for not cutting them down. Some 100 activists staged a one-hour-long lightning demonstration at the Grand Hyatt Hotel that put Bank President Robert Zoellick on the defensive. The protestors, which included members of the Indonesian Civil Society Forum, Friends of the Earth International, World Rainforest Movement, Global Forest Coalition, Jubilee South, the Durban Group on Climate Justice, and Focus on the Global South, warned that incorporating forests into the carbon market would simply guarantee their passing into the hands of big private interests.

Of special concern to the protestors was the fate of indigenous communities. The proposed Bank facility, they warned in a statement, “could trigger further displacement, conflict, and violence. As forests themselves increase in value, they [would be] declared ‘off limits’ to communities that live in them or depend on them for their livelihoods.”

Global Civil Society Erupts into the Scene

The mass action against Zoellick within the conference site underlined another reason Bali will be remembered. It marked the entry of the global justice movement into the climate change negotiations. The meeting was attended not only by civil society organizations working on trade and development like Oxfam and the World Development Movement but also by mass movement networks like Via Campesina and Jubilee South. A venue called Solidarity Village for a Cool Planet less than a kilometer from the conference site was organized by the Indonesian Civil Society Forum to serve as a site for a parallel conference that drew hundreds of participants. Representatives of environmental refugees from the Pacific Islands, indigenous peoples threatened by forest carbon trading schemes, and farmers from Via Campesina were among those who participated in the week-long gathering.

The eruption into the scene of trade justice and development activists brought a conflictive World Trade Organization ministerial-like atmosphere to the negotiations that had formerly been marked by a civil if not chummy relationship between government negotiators and climate lobbyists. “This opening up of the process to folks who are bringing new issues like trade and justice and people’s empowerment into the equation has been a bit disconcerting to the traditional climate NGOs,” said Emma Brindal of Friends of the Earth-Australia.

“Climate Justice” was the call that united the groups at the Solidarity Village. In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the participants stated: “By climate justice, we understand that countries and sectors that have contributed the most to the climate crisis -- the rich countries and transnational corporations of the North -- must pay the cost of ensuring that all peoples and future generations can live in a healthy and just world, respecting the ecological limits of the planet. In Bali, we took another step towards building a global movement for climate justice.”


Walden Bello, a fellow of the Transnaitonal Institute, is senior analyst at the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines. He is also the president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition of the Philippines.

About the authors

Walden Bello

Author of more than 14 books, Bello was awarded the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize) in 2003 for "... outstanding efforts in educating civil society about the effects of corporate globalisation, and how alternatives to it can be implemented." Bello has been described by the Economist as the man “who popularised a new term: deglobalisation.”

Bello predicted the financial crisis several years prior to the current meltdown and is a globally respected figure within the alternative globalisation movement. Canadian author Naomi Klein called him the "world's leading no-nonsense revolutionary."

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