Bali Conference, Day 8: The carbon world, big and small

One thing about industry, they know how to party.

Inspecting a Car I’ve just arrived back from a reception at the UN climate conference in Bali hosted by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). If I’ve figured my diagram correctly, IETA falls in the circle of BINGOs (business and industry non-governmental organizations). However, in the realm of carbon markets, the border separating BINGO from ENGO (environmental non-governmental organization) is often friendly and also porous. In fact, this reception was co-hosted by Environmental Defense—though I suspect it’s IETA we have to thank for the open bar.

The event brought together a group of people that in the context of this conference is quite diverse, but among whom the distinction would probably be virtually indecipherable in another setting. Cataloguing a handful of the people I conversed with, we had:

  • Officials from U.S. state agencies
  • Congressional staffers, Republican and Democrat
  • Environmental NGO staff
  • Government delegates
  • Electric power sector lobbyists
  • Carbon traders
  • Consultants
  • Former classmates and teaching assistants of mine

What all these people had in common was that they spend a majority of their professional time trying to navigate and/or define the emerging carbon markets. They also appear to have spent a bit of time moving from one of these categories to another. I was quite surprised to cross paths with a former teaching assistant turned congressional staffer, a past grad-school classmate turned ENGO staff, and finally, a long-lost college classmate turned carbon trader. Is the world of carbon markets really so small that I should be running into college classmates?

At Worldwatch, we recently calculated that worldwide carbon emissions due to fossil fuel combustion reached 8 billion tons in 2006. The responsibility of U.S. citizens amounted to an average of 5.3 tons of carbon per capita—just a few Volkswagens more than a person would want to carry on his or her back. The magnitude of emissions that must be eliminated to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius is daunting, to say the least. In this context, the caucus seeking out emissions reductions can appear relatively small.

Palm Oil Quiz I know this is not actually the case (and not simply because some very concerned advocates decided to avoid the massive carbon footprint that a flight to Bali incurs). Many people are quietly working to reduce global carbon emissions without all the fanfare of this conference. Utilities are running programs to swap out old, energy-wasting appliances; energy services companies are aggressively and profitably seeking energy efficiency; and communities in the developing world are leapfrogging inefficient, centralized fossil fuel power stations to adopt local power solutions, including wind and solar.

The proof of the breadth of the coalition of climate change combatants was illustrated by another event I attended today: the ‘Cool Energy’ exhibit hosted by the United Nations Development Programme. There, representatives of the Indonesian Railways and Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture showed my colleague Jordan and me some of their projects to improve transportation efficiency and promote sustainable forestry (see photos).

Of course, despite the broad-based mitigation efforts, global carbon emissions continue to rise. This suggests that the field of actors must continue to increase and their carbon-eliminating efforts be redoubled—feats that the post-2012 climate pact must accomplish. With this in mind, I’ll return tomorrow to consideration of the state of the Bali Roadmap. Preparatory meetings are wrapping up and the Ministers will soon be arriving. Important questions pertaining to the level of ambition incorporated in the Roadmap and the process of future negotiations remain on the table as we draw down to the wire.