Bali Conference, Day 3: Off on the wrong foot?

I’m beginning to find my way here at the UN climate conference in Bali—but what about the negotiators?

Since arriving, I’ve had something of an identity crisis. I’m at an event where decisions are being made (or perhaps not made) that I believe will truly shape the course of the world for the next century or more. But I’m a researcher, not a lobbyist.

When I walk past a U.S. negotiator in the hallway, part of me tells me I should just pull him aside and say, “Hey, I’m not sure you really get what’s going on here. Can I try to explain?” But another part of me says that such a maneuver is outside my role, not to mention being far outside my area of expertise.

And then there’s that other little voice, in this case the tie-breaker, saying, “Don’t be stupid, he knows EXACTLY what’s going on here.” I’m feeling the need to resolve this split personality before it becomes a permanent disorder. Fortunately, there are a couple of things making that possible:

First, every day I interact with amazingly capable people from NGOs around the world, some of whom have been to a decade’s worth of these events. They’re being actively consulted by the progressive players here (e.g., the European Union), and respected, if not adored, by the “fossils.” If any groups can steer this process in the right direction, they can.

Second, I’ve found somewhat of a niche for myself in the negotiations tied to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The discussions around the CDM are typically very technical. Most peoples’ eyes glaze over within the first few minutes. I could talk about it for hours—perhaps why I’ve never been particularly good at cocktail parties.

With $7 billion committed to CDM projects in 2006 and $25 billion in the pipeline, it’s an issue that deserves someone’s attention. My experience here is that the CDM is something that the European Community is getting a grasp on, and the developing world is trying to capitalize on. But the United States won’t really give much thought to it until people start thinking about how the provisions for offsetting emissions in pending climate legislation will play out.

CDM working group So while the CDM is perhaps not the biggest story at this conference (though here in Indonesia, how forestry projects are treated by the CDM is certainly seen as important), it’s one I can’t resist following (and yes, if possible, influencing by providing some solid analysis within the Climate Action Network’s CDM working group, shown right).

As for the negotiators, there’s some fear they aren’t getting any closer. Most discussions have shifted away from the main conference forums to smaller, focused negotiating groups. But according to a source more savvy than I, the limited mandate assigned to these groups—to prepare options for consideration—is far more limited than is usual at such negotiations. This leaves a troubling amount of common-ground finding to be done during the high-level sessions next week.

Panel Photo It’s early, and I don’t want to sound alarms, but things could be going better. And perhaps they would be if some of the delegates could find the time to attend some of the side events going on here. Tonight, I attended one that presented the perspectives of people living in small island states (pictured left, excuse the blurriness). Climate change looks a lot different when your entire country sits only 1.2 meters above the rising sea.