Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hope but no policy substance from Bali meetings

The political left and the diplomats are celebrating but the reasons for the 'party' are not clear. The UN themselves see the 'Bali roadmap' as an opportunity to negotiate, with perhaps a heightened sense of urgency, up to 2009.

But the outcomes from the actual Bali talks seem to be close to nil - the substance of the negotiations remains to be done. No plan and no fixed emission targets although there does seem to be an agreement to seek an agreement by 2009 when President Bush won't be there.

The pressure by the US on developing countries to cut emissions as part of an overall deal seems to have been removed by opposition from sanctimonious developing countries such as China and Indonesia (first and third worst carbon emitters on the planet) who are some of the globe's worst environmental vandals. Developed countries are obliged to help undeveloped countries meet costless, 'no regret' options and, there is acceptance by China, of the need to pursue emissions-cutting actions that are “measurable, reportable and verifiable".

Frankly this is pathetically vague and repudiates only the stronger parts of the US arguments (which correctly insist on the need for developing countries to be part of a global treaty) while leaving other less desirable aspects of US climate change policy untouched.

I am not strong on the language and nuances of international political agreements - on this occasion I would be happy to be corrected and a more optimistic gloss painted on the 'Bali roadmap' than I can detect. It sounds to me like a close to a zero outcome.

The diplomats would have failed had they not produced some sort of agreement - they have delivered a void that needs to be renegotiated.

Under the heading 'A big win for the planet, and others', John Quiggin's assessment is that the Bali talks are a huge victory for Kevin Rudd:

'But for the first time, we can be reasonably hopeful that the people of the world will act to avoid the worst of the impending ecological catastrophe of climate change'.

John's comments on Rudd are clearly wrong - Rudd has ratified a symbolic Kyoto agreement but in other respects just mimicked John Howard. On John's other views I hope I am wrong but the claim he makes seems to be unwarranted optimism rather than anything specific that come out of the negotiations. Maybe the 'sense of urgency' or some other intangible I did not discern from the meetings is a narrow positive. None of the tough decisions, however, that need to be made have been made. The developing countries (China, India, Brazil, Indonesia) need to commit to costly climate change control measures which will impact on their economic growth and all developed countries need to commit to specific targets.


Slim said...

Harry - like you I am no expert on what has transpired in Bali, but I was under the impression that the main objective was to agree to a process whereby a proposal for a post-Kyoto agreement can be bashed out for 2012 - a plan for a plan, as it were.

As best as I can tell this has been achieved to the degree that anyone could have realistically expected, despite the general press commentary seeming to suggest that it was supposed to be about determining the actual Kyoto II terms and conditions.

There was an analysis in the Sunday Age but it doesn't seem to be online. The jist of it was that in the world of real politik the agreement was about what was expected and is a step forward to developing a new post Kyoto agreement. Further cooperation from the US will probably not happen under the current administration.

To its credit, the Rudd team in Bali played a constructive if not crucial role in hammering out the agreement. So while you may argue that Rudd's stance is about the same as Howard's, I'm not convinced this would have happened with Howard's team as they may have been more sympathetic to the US position.

hc said...

Well that is what they are saying - 'a framework'. Maybe. The difficulty is that groups such as IPCC get good press and favorable reviews in the US and other countries but it does not translate into policy.

Spiros said...

Harry, there was never going to be a firm agreement at Bali for two reasons. First, because the Bush Administration would never allow one of substance. Second, why would the rest of the world strike a poor agreement with Bush when they know that in 2 years time at the next big meeting they will be able to sign a better agreement with whoever succeeds him?

All that could be reasonably hoped for was achieved, and maybe a bit more, with the Chinese more accommodating than most people would have predicted.

Surely you as an academic, based on your everyday experiences with your colleagues, must realise how hard it is to get consensus on difficult questions when entrenched positions are dug in, based on short term self interest. Well, international climate change negotiations are that, multiplied by one million.

whyisitso said...


I'm a great admirer of Ian Huntley, the author of the highly respected stock market newsletter "Your Money" (established over 30 years). I quote from his "2008 Forecast" issued recently:

This is an enormous issue and sadly the skeptic side to the case is not aired as much in Australia as it is in other countries, such that it is politically incorrect to question it, in line with Rudd’s loaded question to Howard some months back: 'Are you a Climate Change skeptic?' The answer should have been 'Yes, because this issue is so important to this country’s economic future, that we must deeply analyse it from every standpoint. Skepticism is a necessary part of rational analysis.' "

hc said...

Spiros, I think the extreme pressure put on the US makes your hypothesis that the US successfully played a blocking role implausible. Canada, Australia and many other developed countries rejected the fixed targets. Rudd just said he 'liked 'em'.

I know the 'free rider' issues that make these sorts of agreements difficult and teach graduate students this stuff.

I am surprised at the way the developed countries gave so much ground to developing countries. Indonesia is the third biggest global emitter simply because it is burning off its rainforests - giving such countries latitude ans accepting their gratitude as Rudd did for joining the fight against global warming is accommodating a grubby child.

Whyisitso, This debate has occurred many times in various settings and I am tired of it. I am a skeptic about everything including global warming but the overwhelming evidence suggests that on the balance of probabilities we face a real problem that can be addressed.

To be honest I don't see climate change skeptics as brave individualists fighting a minority cause. I think there is stupidity in the failure to listen to the strong scientific case for addressing this problem.

Slim said...

whyisitso - leaving aside consideration of climate science and the impact of human activity on global warming and whether or not it exists - can you please explain the wisdom of pumping ever more hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year?

Anonymous said...


Why bother pointing out Quiggin is “deadly wrong” on this issue as he’s wrong on most important issues. In fact he's always wrong with deadly accuracy.

Quiggin was the guy who once suggested that as a gesture to reduce emissions Brisbane ought to permanently close a freeway leading to the city that was damaged and closed needing repairs. He got this bit of wisdom while riding a ferry to work across the city swamp. Nice guy. He doesn't have the problems of commuting in one of the most spread out cities in the world.

He's only after symbolism without substance and will dissemble a hippo if it made the left look good. He's just a propagandist for the left, that's all.

Surely you as an academic, based on your everyday experiences with your colleagues, must realise how hard it is to get consensus on difficult questions when entrenched positions are dug in, based on short term self interest.

Isn't it funny. One of the UN idiots broke down in tears over not reaching a conclusion. Talk about marrying a view.

There will never be an international conclsuion in our lifetime as we all don't have the same growth paths and constituent demands.

There wpould be far more credibility if we simply accelerated out tech R&D.