(Bali, Dec. 16). A day after the dramatic ending of the Bali climate
talks, many are wondering if the result was indeed best outcome
possible given the circumstances. The US was brought back to the fold,
but at the cost of excising from the final document–the so-called Bali
Roadmap–any reference to the need for a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in
greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 to keep the mean
global temperature increase to 2.0 to 2.4 degrees Celsius in the 21st

Reference to quantitative figures was reduced to a footnote referring
readers to some pages in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) 2007 Report which simply enumerates several climate
stabilization scenarios. The alternative scenarios ranged from a 2.0 to
2.4 degree rise in temperature to a 4.9 to 6.1 degree increase. This
prompted one civil society participant to remark that "The Bali roadmap
is a roadmap to anywhere."

Would it have been better to have simply let the US walk out, allowing
the rest of the world to forge a strong agreement containing deep
mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on the part of the developed
countries? With a new US president with a new policy on climate change
expected at the beginning of 2009, the US would have rejoined a process
that would already be moving along with strong binding targets. As it
is now, having been part of the Bali consensus, Bush administration
negotiators, say skeptics, will be able to continue their
obstructionist tactics to further water down global action throughout
the negotiations in 2008.

One wonders what would have happened had Washington remained true to
its ideological propensities and decided to stomp out of the room when
the delegate from Papua New Guinea, releasing the conference’s pent up
collective frustration, issued his now historic challenge: "We ask for
your leadership and we seek your leadership. If you are not willing to
lead, please get out of the way." As everyone now knows, after
last-minute consultations with Washington, the American negotiator
backed down from the US’s hard-line position on an Indian amendment
seeking the conference’s understanding for the different capacities of
developing countries to deal with climate change and said Washington
"will go forward and join the consensus."

The single-minded focus on getting Washington on board resulted in the
dearth of hard obligations agreed upon at the meeting except for the
deadline for the negotiating body, the "Ad Hoc Working Group on
Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention," to have its work
ready for adoption at the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in 2009
(COP 15).

Many delegates also felt ambivalent about the institutional
arrangements that were agreed upon after over a week of hard
North-South negotiations.

  • An Adaptation Fund was set up, but it was put under the
    administration of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the
    US-dominated World Bank. Moreover, the seed funds from the developed
    countries are expected to come to only between $18.6 million to US$37.2
    million–sums which are deemed severely inadequate to support the
    emergency efforts to address the ongoing ravages of climate change in
    the small island states and others on the "frontlines" of climate
    change. Oxfam estimates that a minimum of US$50 billion a year will be
    needed to assist all developing countries adapt to climate change.

  • A "strategic program" for technology development and transfer
    was also approved, again with troubling compromises. The developing
    countries had initially held out for the mechanism to be a designated a
    "facility" but finally had to agree to the watered-down
    characterization of the initiative as a "program" on account of US
    intransigence. Moreover, the program was also placed under the GEF with
    no firm levels of funding stated for an enterprise that is expected to
    cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

  • The REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and
    Degradation) initiative pushed by host Indonesia and several other
    developing countries with large forests that are being cut down rapidly
    was adopted. The idea is to get the developed world to channel money to
    these countries, via aid or market mechanisms, to maintain these
    forests as carbon sinks. However, many climate activists fear that
    indigenous communities will lose be victimized by predatory private
    interests that will position themselves to become the main recipients
    of the funds raised.

Still, many felt that the meager and mixed results were better than nothing.

Perhaps the best indication on whether the conference was right to bend
over backward almost 180 degrees to accommodate the US will come next
month in Honolulu during the Major Economies Meeting, a
Washington-initiated conference that was originally designed to subvert
the United Nations process. The question on everyone's lips is: Will
the Bush adminstration revert to form and use the conference to launch
a separate process to derail the Bali Roadmap?