15 January 2008

They all came to Bali; and they all left. Nothing much changed except some promise about looking at things again in 2009. Only the hapless Ives de Boer (what a great name!) broke down in tears for lack of real progress. But Governator Schwarzenegger enjoyed the attention. Major Bloomberg felt statesman-like. Our very own Secretary General was in his element: climate change as an announced priority, media appeals for timely action and making more friends in one of the most populous -- and beautiful -- Asian countries. Former U.S. Vice President Gore must have been seriously gratified. He may not have gotten enough recognition for his claim of inventing the Internet but he certainly got the world's attention on carbon dioxide emissions. That's quite a feat considering how cumbersome is the subject -- let alone how interesting is Al Gore.

A U.N. thrust into the Environment is not new. UNEP, whose first director was Maurice Strong, and HABITAT, both in Nairobi, are indications of an early, well-intentioned commitment. Both programmes, however, are clinically dead though bureaucratically alive. Also, an international conference on the issue is not new. First there was Stockholm. Then in 1992 a new Secretary General, Dr. Boutros-Ghali, declared a determination to confront environmental emergencies at an Earth Summit in Rio, assisted by the ever re-emerging Mr. Strong. It was there that a euphoric group of experts drafted the "Framework Convention on Climate Change" to which "Universal" was suggested years later in Tokyo. Frustration for trying to accomplish a UN/FUCCC has been with us ever since!

As new Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took matters in hand, he highlighted Climate Change as one of his priorities. The issue became more pressing publicly when the Nobel Prize was granted to those active in that field. Perhaps a wily Norwegian advisor suggested that area as loaded with potential.

Like similar conferences, Bali came out with a declaration. The real big concessions were not handled; simply because they were not agreed.

A "roadmap" -- a recurring word in almost any intra-national issue these days -- was set. It indicated that more talks will continue for the next two years. Although "a first step pilot project" was agreed, in principle, to measure emissions reduction from forestry, there was an argument whether to include "reforestation" and excluded "deforestation" for the time being!

There were agreements in principle yet no "roadmap" to accomplish them in practice. For example, a Fund to help poor countries go green was approved, but no indication of how money for that fund could be raised. There was consensus that developing countries needed to gain access to "green" technology, but no suggestions as how that could be done.

Although "deep cuts" in emissions were declared necessary, no specific targets were set. No guidance was given as to how countries, big or small, industrial or rural, could collaborate to share measures cutting emissions. Despite detailed technical discussions there was not even a clarification for example on whether "capturing carbon" would be considered as a "credit."

Hence the unfettered tears of Conference Secretary, Mr. de Boer, who apparently had believed the pre-conference rhetoric. That, however, did not prevent Secretary General Ban Ki-moon from hailing a new "dawn of Green economy." If he meant "eco tourism," he was right on the dot, particularly regarding the process to keep the process. For when decision makers at Bali huddled to review what should happen next, they swiftly agreed that they should hold their next meeting in Hawaii!

Meanwhile...Go Hug a Penguin!