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by Archives January 15, 2008

It is safe to say that the 13th conference on climate change held in Bali, Indonesia last month was mainly about setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to acceptable levels. The conference had its usual cast of players. Russia and Canada were sitting silent, but lobbying behind the scenes for less stringent gas reduction targets. Meanwhile the big economic players , the United States, India and China — known more for their past opposition to environmental agreements — were refusing to be bound by any targets.
Despite Canada speaking out against broad and vague reduction targets, it accepted a new accord to set a non-binding target of a 25 to 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement – which did not apply to the United States – was one of two key deals struck.
Canada had argued throughout the conference that broad targets should not be set before negotiations on the detailed plan for cutting emissions are held. Canada also maintained that a 25 to 40 per cent cut by 2020 is unrealistic for the nation, which has already far exceeded its emission limit under the terms of the Kyoto accord.
Canada did manage to win on the other Bali agreement – a broader plan called the “Bali Road Map” for all of the attending 190 countries at Bali, including the United States. But in order to satisfy the United States and Canada, the Bali negotiators agreed that no emission targets would be mentioned in this agreement.
The roadmap only outlines the next steps for negotiation and calls for a deadline of 2009 – when there will be a formal successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. For that deadline to be met, the United States and Canada will both need to agree to something they have resisted so far: binding commitments on emission reductions.
A significant result of the talks may be that they appear to have sealed a major shift in the geopolitics of climate change. The shift has come from developing countries, known collectively as “the G-77 plus China.” Led by China – a nation that once disputed that climate change existed – South Africa and Brazil, the group is beginning to flex its muscles. In the past, industrial countries cut the deals and essentially presented developing countries with the results. No longer.
At issue was wording on adaptation, technology transfer and financing. Developing countries strongly suggested text changes to the “roadmap” plan that the United States had opposed throughout the talks. When the head of the American negotiating team, Paula Dobriansky, took the floor, she said the United States couldn’t support the change.
Developing countries were already saying that the States wanted to confine the issues. Dobriansky’s “no” was met with a chorus of boos. Other developing countries took the floor to support the change and roundly criticize the United States. South Africa and Papua-New Guinea’s delegation said that the American position was unwelcome. In the end, the United States went along with the changes. Analysts said that it showed that the old north-south divide at climate talks may be eroding, given the alliance between Europe and the “G-77 plus China” on the issue.
China, a booming economy known for its air pollution and rising greenhouse gas emissions, is winning praise at the climate conference for its efforts in the last 10 years to clean up and support anti-global warming movements.
Some experts believe China has surely passed the United States and Canada as the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, yet it has made strides in enhancing energy efficiency and promoting renewable energy, and it should be no wonder to the world that China has something to say on the issue of climate change.
But what came out of Bali points to the tough bargaining that lies ahead. The aim for all nations is to approve a new agreement at talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, which will be held in 2009. Enough countries will need to ratify it so that it can take over from where the Kyoto Protocol leaves off, when its commitment period expires in 2012.

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