Bali: so what?

BaliPathway

(“A Pathway to Heaven.” Credit: Flickr/^riza^)

The redoubtable Olive Heffernan of Climate Feedback agonizes, like many, over whether the participants at the Bali climate-change conference achieved consensus at the expense of effectiveness. It’s difficult to glean from most general-audience news reports, but the nature of the talks’ result is that every country in the world formally agrees that the climate-change problem is very bad and we need to do something, but we’ll only say what (a cut of developed countries’ greenhouse-gas emissions of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels) very, very quietly. In a footnote to the preamble of the final agreement, to be precise, making general reference to the latest series of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, which reached that conclusion.

Wrangling over just how loudly the countries of the world will state those targets can be expected to occupy most of the next two years’ worth of climate talks.

These meetings seem to end up in one of a handful of ways. They can reach consensus on meaningless things (Bali), reach consensus on meaningful things many will ignore (Kyoto), or achieve basically nothing at all (Montreal). Because envirocrats hail each one as a historic/landmark/watershed/breakthrough event, they give the illusion of progress — and then when the breakthroughs fail to yield detectable policy changes (the U.S. is already backtracking on the meaningless commitment it made just days ago), green-skeptics get to say it’s all a scam ginned up for the benefit of the negotiators.

Consider Lorne Gunter:

Every year, these same signatories meet. Every year, they go over (and over) the same territory. Every year, they dicker, blather, preach, assail, negotiate, draft and redraft (not to mention flying from one exotic location to another eating, drinking and living off fat publicly funded expense accounts). And every year, they leave claiming to have reached an historic consensus to save the UN climate change process.

The “historic” Bali agreement is no agreement at all. Rather, it is a compromise on a promise to negotiate an actual deal within the next two years. It contains no emissions quotas on any countries, developed or developing.

I hardly agree with Gunter on anything, but he’s not wrong. He’s taking an exceptionally hard line, it’s true, asking a lot of fabulously complex and difficult negotiations among dozens of parties with conflicting agendas. Progress in these things is made in millimetres, and to condemn the UN process for not serving up kilometres of improvements with every session is not entirely fair.

But seriously — what good does this all do? The IPCC and its science are certainly useful, but what positive effect has the Kyoto Protocol had aside from being a supernova-sized distraction?

I say screw it. We should stop going. Stop sending words to do the work of deeds. Instead, let’s recognize that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions makes sense not only on its own account, but because it means economic improvements (in the name of efficiency) and more tangible environmental improvements at the same time. Less spewing means less wasting means more money in our pockets. We can even find ways to support investments in efficiencies abroad without having to necessarily play by the Kyoto Accord’s Clean Development Mechanism.

Do not take this as an endorsement of the Harper government’s foolishness, by the way. Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird obviously went to Bali to be a spoiler and he mostly failed and was embarrassed and that’s good. I do believe he didn’t even want to send words, let alone deeds; in the case of Canada’s current government, having to cough up some words was progress.

But for serious people, attending meetings is not a substitute for getting on with the job. That’s all.

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2 responses to “Bali: so what?

  1. Pingback: Chris Tindal » Bali Verdict Roundup

  2. Hey, didn’t I say something similar in the comments a few threads back?? — i.e., the international commitment game is going nowhere fast, and all the efforts in the world don’t seem to be changing that truth….so, refocus more on domestic actions…

    I’m sure you’ve also seen Chris Green’s opinion. Not exactly the same as above, but adds a few wise thoughts now that we’ve had 20 years of watching the intern’l climate policy game:

    http://www.irpp.org/po/archive/dec07/green.pdf

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