This weekend saw the conclusion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, a day later than planned. The summit, designed to put in place a global plan to tackle climate change once the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 was highly fractious, and intransigence by a number of nations resulted in the threat of a failure to come to an agreement. At the last minute, however, a certain measure of consensus was achieved, and an action plan was approved by the member nations.
As we've reported before, the summit's aim was to take over from the Kyoto Protocol once it expires in 2012, in light of the reams of data contained within the Fourth Assessment Report (4AR), the recent four-part study concluded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The 4AR has painted a much bleaker picture of the world's climate than before, with all signs pointing to an accelerated degree of disruption to the world's climate than previously agreed upon. Some of these changes are now underway, but there is still a window for action, albeit short, to prevent some of the worst effects.
Running over its schedule by a day, the Bali conference agreed on a roadmap on Saturday that puts in place a two-year process to attempt to agree on widespread reductions on anthropogenic climate emissions. Two days earlier, the European Union was highly critical of the US' continued intransigence on the issue. The mood could be summed up by an impassioned plea from the Papua New Guinea's representative, telling the US, "If you're not willing to lead, get out of the way." The plea was effective, as the US agreed to support the roadmap
However, although an agreement was arrived at, one has to question its worth. The US opposition centered around the the EU and China's proposal for a reduction in emissions to 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by the developed nations, and a lack of any concrete demands on the developing world. As a result, the EU's targets have been omitted to be replaced by a commitment to "deep cuts," and the US is already seen by many to be backtracking on the plan.
The failure to address the developing world's emissions in Kyoto has been used by politicians of all flavors in the US over the past 16 years to stall any meaningful action on the national level, and it's hard to envision the response to Bali being much different. New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, spoke to a fringe meeting and pointed to the problem: "…Congress. They're unwilling to face any issue that has costs or antagonises any group of voters," and this surely will.
In light of this, one ought to greet the news of a signed agreement with rather cautious optimism. The need to act, and act quickly, is paramount, and in the immortal words of 24's Jack Bauer, "We're running out of time." But actual implementation will not be easy. Although the current crop of Democratic Presidential hopefuls all see tackling climate change as a priority, unless Congress can be persuaded to take action, those promises will be meaningless.