The big issue in December’s U.N. climate change conference in Bali was not one of science, but of political will. Would nations agree to try to negotiate an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The answer – barely – was yes. The “Bali roadmap” creates a process and set of principles for negotiating a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The negotiations will continue in 2008 in Poznan, Poland, and must conclude by the next U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009.
If Bali produced a roadmap, however, it is a strange one, because we don’t know where the road ends.
I want to make four observations about what happened at Bali.
- First: there were several thousand attendees from the private sector and their presence was a positive force. While this group might have been negative in the past, at this meeting it was notable that a group of major U.S. and European companies, along with NGOs, joined forces in calling on the negotiators to move as quickly as possible.
- Second: both developed and developing countries agreed to negotiate about commitments to reduce emissions. Developing countries may make different kinds of commitments than developed countries, but the negotiations will address both.
- Third: Europe led in these negotiations. The Europeans led both by the commitments they have made to reduce their own emissions and by what they called for in the negotiations.
- Fourth: the United States failed to lead. Bush Administration negotiators were basically alone in resisting an agreement, and, in an unprecedented public defeat, were ignored – pushed aside is more like it – as negotiators forged ahead with creating the Bali roadmap.
The U.S. will be a lame-duck participant in the upcoming 2008 meetings in Poznan. What will the instructions to the U.S. delegation be? Will they help the world find an agreement or will they refuse to commit the U.S. government to anything, pending a new administration? Will they lay landmines for the succeeding administration?
I think it’s most likely that the U.S. plays a passive role in the coming year and leaves a huge set of decisions for a new administration. The meeting in Poznan will take place after the election, but before the inauguration. There will be a set of meetings leading up to Copenhagen, which will present urgent questions for the new administration.