From December 3–14, 2007, more than 10,000 participants representing over130 nations will come together on the island of Bali, Indonesia—the “Island of the Gods”—for the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The conference marks the thirteenth conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which the United States is a party to, and the third meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States has chosen not to ratify.
According to the United Nations, the main goal of the conference is to deliver a “necessary breakthrough” and begin “negotiations on a new international climate agreement” that will replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. While the conference is not aimed at delivering a fully negotiated and agreed upon climate plan, it is hoped that the Parties will agree on the key strategies and areas that the new agreement will cover, such as mitigation, adaptation, technology and financing. The United Nations is also pushing for the parties to agree to a 2009 deadline for ending negotiations so that the new climate change deal can be ratified by 2012, avoiding a gap after Kyoto.
The conference comes on the heals of the September 17 release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth assessment report, which is a synthesis of three previous working group sections that were released between January and April of this year. The first section dealt with climate trends, the second dealt with the world’s ability to adapt to global warming, and the third examined strategies for reducing global carbon emissions. When the IPCC released this synthesis report, the scientists concluded that the evidence was “more explicit,” created “new emphasis and alarm,” and placed “the reality of human-induced global warming beyond any doubt” (in case there were any out there still questioning the already overwhelming evidence). Rajendra Pachauri, a scientist and economist who heads the IPCC, stated: “If there is no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two or three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” While the scientific community has again spoken on the urgency of the problem, the biggest hurdle is getting the political community to come together in agreement as well.
The United States’ refusal to ratify Kyoto, or agree to any domestic or international plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat global warming, is something that the United Nations hopes will begin to change in Bali. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Yvo de Boer, has called on the United States to play a “more constructive role” in the international scheme. De Boer is also looking to “re-engage” Australia and “more strongly engage major developing nations,” such as Brazil, India, and China (which is set to replace the U.S. as the largest greenhouse gas emitter this year, if it hasn’t already).
Fortunately, one of these nations seems to be answering the call. Australia elected a new prime minister this week, Kevin Rudd, who has promised to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, plans to sign on to Kyoto (or its successor), and will attend the Bali conference. Rudd has even spoken to Al Gore, who will also attend the conference, about what needs to be done globally regarding climate change. With Australia planning to ratify Kyoto, the United States is now the only industrialized nation to refuse to join the international effort.
While this has not brought about any drastic (Australia-like) policy changes in the U.S., the Bush Administration does seem to be getting on board, albeit slowly. The Administration’s reaction to the IPCC report, delivered by the chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality, James L. Connaughton, was that the President agrees that “the issue warrants urgent action, and we need to bring forward in a more accelerated way the technologies that will make a lasting solution possible.” The Administration has also decided to send a U.S. delegation to the Bali conference, led by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Dr. Paula Dobriansky and joined by Connaughton and several others. The White House released a statement last week announcing that “[t]he United States is committed to advancing negotiations in Bali, leading to a new international approach on energy security and climate change.” This is not a definitive promise to join a post-Kyoto regime or substantially reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but it clearly indicates that the Administration isn’t digging its heels in anymore or focusing on scientific controversy.
While the U.S. has acknowledged the problem and seems to be ready to cooperate, the world needs action, not lip service. The United Nations and the rest of the world hope that the United States will prove that they are on board in Bali, but no one is hiding the fact that these changes will not come easily and will be met with a certain amount of resistance. Secretary de Boer acknowledged that it will “take time” to convince America to join any future climate change regimes, but the hope is that the U.S. will at least commit to working towards a post-2012 agreement.
While the outlook painted by the IPCC is grim, the door has not closed, and the world has an opportunity to work towards saving Mother Earth—or “Ibu Pertiwi” as it is called in Balinese—from some of the future impacts and repercussions of climate change in Bali. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will be welcoming the thousands of conference participants to his nation, has stressed that the Bali conference is an important “opportunity to assure present and future generations that their prospects would not be dimmed by climate change.” Only time will tell, and all eyes will be on Bali over the next few weeks to see if thousands of members of the current generations can move towards change that will benefit the earth’s future generations.