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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Peter Riggs' report on the final day at Bali

The Trade Policy Expert

This note was circulated widely by Peter Riggs, who works with cities and institutions on policies and programs fostering trade that sustains communities and the environment.

Hello Friends and Family–

As the day begins in North America some of you have probably already heard the news that a deal has been cut here in Bali at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties.

The meeting was scheduled to end yesterday Indonesian central time at 6pm (Friday), but was extended overnight, and the crucial final plenary commenced at 1:10pm this afternoon (Saturday). I wanted to write while it’s still fresh and give you all a taste of what it felt like.

Given that working groups convened overnight—finally breaking up at 4:30am—it’s perhaps not surprising that this morning started a little rough. The President of the COP, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, re-convened a plenary at a time when the G-77+China—the main grouping of developing countries—was still at work on an alternative text for the critical parts of the ‘Ad-hoc Working Group’ review process, explained below.

Meanwhile, overnight, Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, each flew to Bali to push parties to come to an agreement. So doing raised the diplomatic profile of the end-game substantially.

At 1 pm the President and the Secretary General swept into the main plenary hall along with Minister Witoelar and the Conference’s top diplomat Yvo de Boer. Witoelar proceeded to take note of what had already been agreed to—“every item on the agenda has been read over carefully, and between 80 and 90 percent of all the items have already been adopted.” This felt ominous in and of itself, because everyone in the room knew it was that last ten to twenty percent that would make all the difference. Witoelar then apologized “if I have tread on your sensibilities,”—the reasons for that statement shortly becoming apparent.

He then introduced President Bambang Yudhoyono, who noted that he had come to Bali “to make a special appeal,” asking delegates to do more to make the Bali Road Map a complete package. He noted that the High-Level Event convened by the UN Secretary General earlier this fall had created the demand for a breakthrough at Bali, a “political commitment to concrete commitments, actions, and timelines.” In his plea, President Yudhoyono noted that the “worst thing” that could happen would be for the Bali process to crumble “because we couldn’t find the right wording.”

Ban Kin Moon then took the podium. He startled the audience by stating that he was coming before us “reluctantly,” reluctant because the UN’s top diplomat was essentially forced to acknowledge his disappointment in the lack of progress at Bali. He urged us not to risk all we had achieved thus far; he praised the “strong and good draft” put forward by the President of the COP; and he said, “it’s time to decide.” Two speeches that turned up the temperature on what would happen next. And with that, these two dignitaries left the room, their entourages scurrying after them, and Minister Witoelar turned us to Item 4 on the Agenda—the crux of the Bali Road Map—the “Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention.”

An aside here to describe the evolution of text on Item 4 during the week. The first draft, put forward by Witoelar and his Indonesian team last Saturday, was really very good. It did four things. It reiterated the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”—which notes the historical responsibility of industrialized (“Annex I”) countries for virtually all emissions leading to the increase in the global atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses. Annex I countries who signed onto the Kyoto Protocol have binding reduction targets for their emissions.

The first official act of the new government in Australia—Prime Minister Rudd coming to power last month in what one Aussie noted as ‘the world’s first national election decided on the issue of climate change’—was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Of Annex I countries, then, that left only the United States standing obstinate and alone outside the Kyoto Protocol.
The second thing the initial Witoelar draft did was to note the need for urgent action—something that even the United States embraced—on the basis of those common but differentiated responsibilities—and that’s where the devil of details lay in wait.
Third, last Saturday’s draft set a near-term target for reductions from Annex I countries of 25 - 40% reductions. While the European Union embraced this preambular language, it drove the Americans crazy. In side-meetings throughout the week, the Bush administration’s negotiators—as well as Minority staff from Congress—repeatedly and often quite savagely noted that no current legislation, not Warner-Lieberman, not any other bill, contemplated that level of near-term reductions, and they said flatly that they were not going to agree to something in text on which they saw no prospect of delivering.
Finally, the Saturday draft also noted the need to reduce total global emissions by 50% by the year 2050. As you can see, then, some elements of this initial text referred to global responsibilities, and some to Annex I country responsibilities, and overall it tried to give shape and heft to the notion of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

And the Americans immediately set about attacking the text.

By mid-week we had a text that had removed all the quantitative language except the ‘reduce by half’ language, which given the time-frame is more aspirational than operational. It was replaced with qualitative language, and included a phrase regarding the need for a “peak and decline” in emissions. Here too there was a tussle on whether that language on ‘peak and decline’ should be accompanied by a statement regarding timeframes. The science indicates that we have no more than ten or fifteen years to put total global emissions on a downward slope to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. One can imagine then that countries other than the United States—most conspicuously China—might have concerns about early-action ‘peak and decline’ language. So this too was part of the negotiating dance—how to get and keep China on board, so as not to drive them into the arms of the Bush science-deniers. (Meanwhile, at 3am on Friday morning, the United States had put on the table a pathetically awful text which tried to demolish ANY distinction between developed and developing countries—which is the way that this convention has been structured since its inception in the early 1990s. Almost none of the language in that submission survived into the draft presented to the plenary this morning.)

The first intervention in the Plenary dealing with Item 4 came from China. It was a ‘point of order.’ And while phrased diplomatically, it was basically a scathing attack on the way that the morning’s plenary process had unfolded, convening at a time when the G-77+China were still discussing alternative text elsewhere. On the dais (and projected onto the two acre-sized screens arrayed at the front of the hall) were Minister Witoelar and Yvo de Boer, puffy-eyed and exhausted. It fell to de Boer to answer, and twice during his short reply he had to stop to compose himself. Not out of anger, but from sheer exhaustion and frustration. He was trying not to burst into tears. He replied to the Chinese that he simply hadn’t been aware that the G-77 was still discussing Agenda Item 4 in side-meetings when the plenary had reconvened. His voiced drained out of him, and suddenly he got up and simply walked out of the hall, trailing a couple of very surprised aides. (Having composed himself—or possibly having laid down for a twenty-minute nap—he later reentered the hall and took his seat.)

And then the moment of truth: India presented the alternative text from the G-77+China. The essential point about this alternative text is that it takes into account “differences in national circumstances” amongst developing countries—that is, not just in relation to Annex I, but in relation to each other—but without the binding reduction commitments that the U.S. had sought from countries like India and China. From the developing world, this was seen as a compromise that indeed not all developing countries could be treated equally—the bigger emerging economies might have to do more—but it preserved flexibilities for them to pursue those commitments at a time to be worked out later—thus, the “Bali Road Map” over the next two years.

Portugal, speaking on behalf of the European Union, let the other shoe drop. “We support the proposal made by….India.” Deliberately echoing a phrase used by the Secretary General Ban Kin-Moon, Portugal noted that we must “travel the road together.” The room erupted in a standing ovation.

Bangladesh, on behalf of the ‘least developed countries’ (LDCs), took the floor to note that they had continued concerns about the text—it was worried about what ‘differences in national circumstances’ would mean in practice for least-developed countries. Perhaps anticipating U.S. objections to one of the two contentious paragraphs, Bangladesh pointedly noted that it was not going to block consensus on the basis of the one paragraph with which they had a quarrel. Costa Rica rose to support Bangladesh’s statement. The Philippines referred us back to already-agreed text in the Convention that precedes the language on ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’—and that is the phrase on the basis of equity. The only possible basis for a truly globally-just climate regime is emissions calculated on a per-capita basis, and it has yet to get a serious hearing in the UNFCCC process. But the Philippines brought us back to that first-principle reminder. Representing small island states, the Maldives chimed in with their support, as did Switzerland on the basis of the “Environmental Integrity Group.” (That grouping includes countries north and south that are already seeing climate-change impacts in their glaciers, water supplies, sea levels, and agricultural sectors.) Even the freakin’ Saudis rose to say they could live with the G-77 text.

And then it was the turn of the United States. Assistant Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, with only the absolute bare minimum of diplomatic language, stated flatly that the United States rejected the changes. It was not prepared to accept the G-77 text.

Then occurred one of the most remarkable sounds that has perhaps ever been heard in the annals of international diplomacy—like a collective global groan—descending then to a murmer, then increasing in volume to a full-throated expression of rage and anger and booing and jeering, lasting for a full minute, so that finally the Minister had to call the meeting back to order.

Japan, predictably, followed the United States with a statement that was completely opaque, from which we could conclude only that Japan supported the G-77 text while also supporting the “major economies” convening process begun by President Bush as a supposed counterbalance to the Kyoto Protocol. (The Americans, with almost unspeakable rudeness, issued invitations to the next ‘major economies meeting’ on the first day of the Bali COP. Sort of like making a big show of announcing your engagement while at someone else’s wedding.)

Then the backlash began. South Africa’s representative, with great eloquence, noted that the U.S. statement was ‘most unwelcome’ and ‘without basis.’ He hammered on the science and winded up by wondering how, if the administration had accepted the science, it could possibly want to block progress. Echoing Bangladesh’s earlier statement, he noted that the Developing Countries were making commitments (in one of those two contentious paragraphs), and yet the U.S. was not. Referring to redrafts from earlier in the week, Brazil noted that the EU and China and the G77 had gone along with most of the amendments offered by the U.S.—they had not blocked progress. The small island states noted their survival imperative. Pakistan’s ambassador stated that “the text before us would not have come about without the flexibility shown by the G-77+China.” Uganda lamented that U.S. views were taken into account in this redraft, and yet the U.S. was blocking. Tanzania stated the situation flatly: “the United States has the power, and that is the power to wreck the progress made thus far.”

Casting all diplomatic niceties to the winds, the representative from Papua New Guinea stood up and said: “if you’re not willing to lead, please get out of the way.” (This was a superb slap at a disgusting comment made by Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton at a press conference a day earlier, when he had implied that the United States was leading, and other countries needed to “fall in line.”)

A pause. A lull. Witoelar on the dais, puffy-eyed, anxious. de Boer, returned to the stage, head in hands, peering between his fingers.

Dobriansky signals she wishes to speak, and Witoelar calls on the United States.

”We are heartened by the strong commitments made by the major developing countries here at Bali,” says the UnderSecretary. “We appreciate the contributions of Japan, the EU, and Canada in emphasizing the need to half emissions by 2050.” She went on to argue that the United States had made three commitments at Bali.

And then: “The United States will join the consensus” regarding the proposed compromise text.

A surge of emotion through the hall, and then a collective sigh of relief. No standing ovation, no cheering—but a sustained, respectful applause.

* * * * *

Let me end with two personal notes.

This is rainy season in Indonesia. When I lived here in the late 1980s, you could count on it raining in December every afternoon. A drenching rain. The rice fields were electric green. The smell was sweet. The rains knocked the humidity out of the air.

And this year—it rained only once, for perhaps ten minutes, during the entirety of COP13. In almost twenty years coming to Indonesia, I have never felt it so hot, the humidity so crushing, the air so acrid.

At dinner last night, I spoke with a young server from a village in the mountains. From a family of rice farmers. They planted in early November, anticipating the rains. But there has been no rain. The seedlings dried up. His father has had to go into debt. The son was sent from the mountains to go work in a tourist mall south of the provincial capital. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where this is no easy access to the tourist cash economy, families resort to other strategies to stay alive when their crops fail. They mortgage their homes and fields first. Then they sell their daughters. Climate change is now.

My second personal note is a Christmas wish. There is domestic climate-change legislation working its way through Congress. It’s not nearly good enough, far-reaching enough. But it’s also analogous to the first draft that Minister Witoelar put on the table last Saturday—a great start, destined to be hammered and picked at and watered down and possibly thrown off the bridge in the end anyway. We can’t let that happen. So family and friends, let me ask for some of your time in the coming weeks and months, to be ready to lobby, to call your members of Congress, to spend a little time on this issue, to stay with this. It’s time the United States really and truly joined the global consensus—that climate change is now.

And now, to sleep. From Bali, over and out.

– Peter Riggs
Director, Forum on Democracy and Trade

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