Dramatic U.S. Turnaround Leads to Climate Deal

UN Climate Change Conference
The climate conference in Bali came to a dramatic conclusion.
Photo by David Steven via Flickr

After a dramatic about-face by the U.S. delegation, the 187 countries represented at the United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, came to consensus on preliminary plans to tackle climate change beyond 2012. “This is a real breakthrough, a real opportunity for the international community to successfully fight climate change,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

On the last scheduled day of the conference, exhausted officials worked late into the night to develop language that all parties would accept. The European Union agreed to omit binding carbon-reduction targets to appease the United States. And the EU and China worked out a deal to ease carbon-reduction requirements for developing countries. So when the U.S. declared it would not accept the amended text, it received a chorus of boos. Soon thereafter, the U.S. delegation reversed its decision and approved the agreement.

Greenpeace energy policy specialist John Coequyt, who attended the conference, suspects that this dramatic about-face was more a reflection of U.S. concern about its international reputation than a desire to actually combat climate change. Nevertheless, he is hopeful about the outcome of the talks. “It could have been a lot worse,” he says. The conference produced “a final outcome that leaves open all the important tracks for negotiations.” But with two years of talks still ahead, “It’s really premature to judge the results of Bali,” Coequyt notes.

The so-called “Bali roadmap” includes an agenda for key issues to be negotiated by 2009 as delegates frame a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that would come into effect by 2013. Critical issues include measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, aid the transfer of clean technology to developing countries, and promote adaptation to the consequences of climate change such as droughts and floods.

In addition to laying the groundwork for future negotiations, countries at Bali agreed to more immediate actions. One of the major outcomes was an agreement known as REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries), which would reward poorer countries for protecting their forests. Governments also agreed to begin funding adaptation projects in developing countries, financed by the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism and managed by the Global Environment Facility. In addition, investments for the transfer of technologies to support climate change mitigation and adaptation in the developing world will be scaled up.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.

After a dramatic about-face by the U.S. delegation, the 187 countries represented at the United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, came to consensus on preliminary plans to tackle climate change beyond 2012.