The Bali outcome, and how to move forward

The biggest disappointment of the Bali climate negotiations was the lack of any binding commitments to reduce emissions.

The resulting “Bali Action Plan” contains no binding commitments, which European countries had sought and the United States fended off. The plan concludes that “deep cuts in global emissions will be required” and provides a timetable for two years of talks to shape the first formal addendum to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty since the Kyoto Protocol 10 years ago.

But was this a failure? I honestly don’t believe we can say that the lack of any binding commitments to reduce emissions was or wasn’t a failure, because the Bali negotiations were merely the first step in creating a post-Kyoto climate agreement to be finalized in Copenhagen in 2009. What was achieved at Bali was the acknowledgment that deep cuts are necessary, and if this results in an effective international agreement to tackle climate change at the end of the negotiations in 2009 then, and only then, will we be able to judge that the compromises made in Bali in order to get the US to sign on to the ‘road map’ were worth it. Ultimately success or failure in Bali, is tied to the success or failure of the climate negotiations in 2009.

What is needed now is a way to move forward that is both fair and includes all major emitters.

Ultimately the only fair way to allocate the world’s rights to emit is the way we allocate votes in a democracy. Each person has equal value. If we divided global emissions entitlements between countries this way, with equal per capita emissions entitlements, China’s population would entitle it to … over four times America’s entitlement.

Of course, once allocated between countries such entitlements should be traded to ensure their most efficient use. It beats me why the developing countries are not playing this card more forcefully now, rather than the delaying game we’re seeing. If citizens of developed countries are too greedy to transition to per capita emissions entitlements quickly, let’s hope we’re not too stupid to do it gradually. Because I can’t see any other way of making the deep engagement of the developing countries politically sustainable.

A gradual transition to such a regime of per capita emissions entitlements would enable developing countries to continue expanding their emissions for some time as they must to continue developing their economies. So we’d have to be prepared to reduce developing countries’ and our own entitlements accordingly.

What is also needed is real leadership from rich countries to push for an agreement that is both fair and effective, something that is sorely lacking in both Canada and the US.

We have no moral or political authority to preach solutions to anyone, anywhere. We’re among the wealthiest people on Earth, in relative terms, and we’re not taking climate change seriously. Why should the Indians and the Chinese do so, when they’re still struggling to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty?

5 thoughts on “The Bali outcome, and how to move forward

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  1. Dan, have you heard that the White House is already criticizing the Bali accord? They couldn’t even let it breathe for a weekend before beginning to undermine the admittedly weak consensus. Any treaty must ensure “energy security” which, I figure, is Washington’s way of saying good old, totally secure, infinitely dirty tar sand bitumen. I was going to write something genuinely rude about Shrub but maybe next time. Ah screw it, they’re assholes!

  2. I wonder, Mound of Sound, how you feel about nuclear power? It seems to me to be the best answer — especially when you consider its use would entail no need for new taxes or net decrease in energy use. Thus, its use would be a win-win for everybody. Plus, it will give the West energy independence. A trifecta!

    Do you support an increase in nuclear power too, Dan? I do. Doesn’t that make me “green”? Furthermore, since nuclear power is actual do-able because it does not entail the impractical (dare I say, impossible) task of cutting down carbon emissions without a viable and equivalently cheap alternative energy source, doesn’t that make me greener than those who don’t support nuclear power? Doesn’t that make the anti-nukes the real “assholes”?

    Mound of sound, you wouldn’t be an asshole, would you? I wouldn’t like to believe that!

  3. Currently nuclear does seem like a decent option to generate electricity. It is certainly a better option than coal power plants.

    That being said there are some real concerns over nuclear power. The first being waste disposal of spent nuclear fuel that will be dangerous for tens of thousands of years (longer than recorded human history). My second concern is safety. While modern nuclear plants are very safe, situation like the recent decision by the Canadian government to override the recommendation of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and restart the nuclear reactor at chalk river does raise some serious concerns.

    Nuclear also wont provide true energy independence, until our transportation technology undergoes a dramatic change. Until that happens we will still need to fill our car’s gas tanks with oil.

    Given these factors nuclear power is at best only part of the solution to climate change, and given these concerns it is understandable why some people continue to oppose it.

    That being said this post wasn’t about nuclear power. Please stay on topic.

  4. Unfortunately one year is too short a time for any progress (or lack thereof) to be detectable. International negotiation are painfully slow… unfortunately.

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