Climate Talks Urge Quick Cut to Global Warming The high-level portion of the United Nations climate talks start in Bali, Indonesia, with pleas for urgent action from countries to help reduce global warming. Australia made a splash by signing on to the Kyoto treaty, while the U.S. is the only industrial nation to boycott the international treaty.

Climate Talks Urge Quick Cut to Global Warming

Climate Talks Urge Quick Cut to Global Warming

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High-level U.N. climate talks opened in Bali on Wednesday with pleas for quick action to tackle global warming.

The hero of the day was Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who signed his country on to the Kyoto treaty. By contrast, the United States was the subject of quiet scorn.

Rudd told the assembled dignitaries that when he became prime minister last week, his first official act was to sign the documents committing his nation to the Kyoto Protocol, reversing the policy of his predecessor, John Howard, who had kept Canberra in virtual lockstep with Washington on the subject of climate change.

With Australia's assent, that leaves the United States as the only major industrialized nation not to have agreed to Kyoto emissions targets. Rudd did not criticize the United States directly, but he expressed a sentiment that is shared by many of those attending the climate talks.

"The world expects us to have binding targets," he said. "The world expects us to pull together. The world expects us to do our fair share."

The speeches launching the high-level talks sounded familiar to people who have been following this discussion since climate change was put on the international agenda in Rio in 1992. Since then, data has continued to pour in, bolstering the case of scientists and policymakers who have argued that global warming is real. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed to this year's report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to support his grave concerns for the planet.

"The science is clear: Climate change is happening. The time to act is now," Ban said, calling climate change the defining challenge of our age.

Passionate words also flowed from the man responsible for running the conference, Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. De Boer wondered aloud why military officials worldwide were preparing for a world disrupted by climate change but nations weren't doing more to prevent a disaster. He did not name the United States, but his final thought did quote an American hero.

"In the words of Abraham Lincoln, 'You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today,'" he said.

The United States has stuck to its long-held position of opposing legally binding emissions targets. Washington's negotiators continue to argue that the U.S. is helping the world by pushing the development of technologies that will be necessary to generate energy and power cars without putting so much carbon dioxide into the air.

Paula Dobriansky, who heads the U.S. delegation, made it clear at a news conference that the issue is not just about the environment – it is about trade and competitiveness with countries such as China, which is part of the Kyoto treaty but, as a developing country, is not required to limit its emissions.

"We want the world's largest economies, including the United States, to be part of a global arrangement. An approach in which only some are required to act cannot be environmentally effective," she said.

Dobriansky said the U.S. wants to leave the meeting with a global commitment to negotiate a new international agreement by the year 2009. That is a year into the administration of the next U.S. president.

Dispatches from Bali U.N. Climate Talks

Two environmental activists dress up as snails for demonstrations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2007 in Nusa Dua, on Bali island. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Q&A: Building a Post-Kyoto Roadmap

  

One of the most challenging issues at the U.N. climate talks is how to get the world's biggest greenhouse emitters — such as the United States and China — to take significant action to cut emissions. A look at what else is on the agenda in Bali and proposed solutions.

Delegates from around the world are meeting this week in Bali, Indonesia, to discuss how to tackle climate change after the Kyoto Protocol expires. NPR correspondents Richard Harris, on the scene in Bali, and Christopher Joyce file posts on the atmosphere outside the meeting rooms.

The Paul Revere of Climate Change

  

1:32 p.m. ET Thursday

  

The U.S. delegation isn't enjoying a very amiable reception in Bali at the soon-to-conclude climate conference held there by the United Nations. With most of the world's nations hankering for an ambitious new roadmap for limiting global warming, the U.S. has been applying the brakes all week. Most everyone else wants to set some sort of numerical limit on how much greenhouse gas emissions can grow by 2020. But the U.S. continues to say no to anything specific. It has Russia and Japan on its side, but as the world's leading skeptic on the whole U.N. apparatus for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, it's the Bush administration that's taking the big heat.

  

Al Gore, the Paul Revere of climate change, rode into Bali yesterday and turned up the thermostat by condemning the Bush administration's go-slow stance and reprising the call to action he made famous in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Basking in the glow of his newly won Nobel Peace Prize, Gore drew enthusiastic applause as he lambasted the Bush team in Bali.

  

It got worse by the end of the day. The target was a meeting the White House has scheduled for late January in Hawaii; industrialized nations are supposed to go hash out climate policies in a sort of "alternate" venue to the U.N. But several European diplomats in Bali suggested they'd boycott that meeting if the Bush team in Bali doesn't try harder to come up with language now on specific emissions limits on greenhouse gases.

  

There's still time for some sort of compromise so that delegations can leave Bali with something to show for two weeks of conferencing. But to longtime climate negotiators, the Bali conference was always in jeopardy because of timing. It launches two years of negotiations that are supposed to create a new climate treaty by 2009. That period spans the U.S. elections, and it's likely that whoever replaces the Bush administration will have a different take on international climate regimes.

  

It's hard, the analysts say with some understatement, to draft a complicated climate treaty when you don't know what the world's biggest economy is going to do until the negotiations are almost over. -- Christopher Joyce

Canvassing Cap-and-Trade

  

9:17 a.m. ET Thursday

  

Climate talks seem ridiculously technical. The documents that churn out of the photocopiers are full of code words that seem obtuse even when decoded. But if you look around Bali, there are actually simple examples of some of these arcane subjects. To cite two: "cap-and-trade" and "leakage."

  

Behold the wonderful canvas bag produced by meeting delegates. Want one? Too bad. They made only 2,000. That was the production "cap." You can only have one if you have a red badge that says "Party." No, that's not a reference to Tequila Sunrises, but to the fact that you are a government delegate, a party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

  

So, lucky you, you can step up to the counter and get one of those coveted bags. But, like carbon pollution credits, there aren't enough bags to go around. So a small market has developed. Nondelegates have been spotted bartering other goodies for one of the conference bags. That's the "trade" part of cap-and-trade.

  

One of the coveted official canvas bags at the Bali conference.
The coveted but limited canvas bag.

If the climate talks go true to form, next year there will be even fewer of these bags (as fewer carbon pollution credits will be available on the global market over time). So the price of a trade will go up, and people will look around for something other than a canvas bag to carry their stuff (just like power plants that run on fuels that don't require the purchase of so many carbon pollution credits).

  

"Leakage" is another popular term around here. It refers to the fear that if carbon emissions are limited in the developed world but not in the developing world, industries will just leak across national borders and end up in countries where there are cheaper fuels.

  

Now, jump in any taxi in Bali, and you'll soon discover that gasoline must be very cheap around here. A typical ride costs two bucks, and surely it's not all going to the gas pump.

  

So why aren't industries already abandoning the industrialized world and "leaking" into Indonesia? Obviously, the price of energy isn't all they think about when they decide where to settle down. -- Richard Harris

Biggest Climate Show on Earth

  

12:58 p.m. ET Wednesday

  

Some might wonder why 10,000 people need to go to Bali to negotiate new international agreements to curb global warming. After all, the people who have the power to make deals for each of the participating nations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — they're the outfit that runs the world climate show — number about 150.

  

Well, these conferences are as much a bazaar as they are places for diplomacy. Hundreds of environmental and business groups (aka nongovernmental organizations) send squads of analysts, lobbyists, publicists and demonstrators to the meeting. They scramble to write position papers on what's being debated, either to influence the outcome, or, failing that, to reassure their supporters that they're trying to make a difference.

  

The biggies show off shiny new climate ventures. The World Bank, for example, announced a $350 million program to pay poor countries to cut down fewer trees so they'll emit less carbon into the atmosphere. It's been public knowledge for months, but there's no place like the big climate conference to announce it again.

  

Chinese musicians were also honored at the meeting for composing pieces that somehow publicize the threat of climate change. And many politicians came to pose for film and photos demonstrating their concern.

  

The crowd is so big (this year is said to be the largest climate meeting ever) that some embarrassment has begun to creep into the proceedings. Many organizations, including the United Nations staff that runs it, are proclaiming that they've bought carbon offsets to make up for all of the jet travel — travel that, of course, puts more carbon into the atmosphere. Offsets are created by projects somewhere in the world that reduce carbon. Buying offsets helps to neutralize their carbon-emitting behavior — like flying to Bali and back.

  

For all of those carbon brokers out there making commissions on buying and selling offsets, the Bali meeting has been good for business. -- Christopher Joyce

  

Lost in Translation

  

8:53 a.m. ET Wednesday

  

Say "Bali" and chances are your friends will correctly imagine palm trees along tropical beaches. Some of your friends may even know that Bali is an island in Indonesia. You'd hope that professional travel agents would know that, too. But a story from the climate conference in Bali reveals that's not always the case.

  

An economist from Washington, D.C. (who wishes to remain anonymous) says his travel agent booked him on a flight to Balikpapan, Indonesia. After he and his traveling companion alighted and passed through customs and immigration, he asked for directions to the international conference center. After quizzical looks and a parley with other customs agents, the officials broke into a hearty round of laughter. They informed him that he was off by about a thousand miles.

  

Turns out Balikpapan is on the island of Borneo. So the two intrepid climate travelers ended up on an island-hopping flight that eventually brought them to Denpasar. Haven't heard of it? You're not alone. Turns out it's the capital city of Bali. No surprise, the economist and his traveling companion are letting the free market work for them. They're shopping for a new travel agent. And last I heard, they're still trying to figure out how to book a flight home, without a stopover in Balikpapan. -- Richard Harris

  

Penguins in Bali?

  

1:07 p.m. ET Tuesday

  

It's true that the Indonesian island of Bali is just 8 degrees south of the equator. And it's also true that many people attending the United Nations' climate talks here are running around in short sleeves and short skirts to cope with the weather.

  

So why were two oversized penguins sitting on a bench in the Bali International Convention Center? Hint: They were waving fans printed with the logo of another black-and-white animal, the panda. That's the World Wildlife Federation's famous trademark.

  

Penguins looking for attention sit on a bench in the Bali International Convention Center.
Penguins looking for attention in Bali.

Such publicity stunts in general are another famous trademark of advocacy groups at U.N. climate talks. Greenpeace has a gargantuan thermometer outside the convention center to remind meeting attendees that the climate has already warmed by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit and projections are for much more.

  

To appeal to the conference wonks, Oxfam International created a huge graph of carbon emissions versus GDP per capita, reminding us that the rich generate most of the carbon dioxide that gets added to our atmosphere, and can afford to pay for the damage that hits hardest in poor countries.

  

Meeting organizers say there are more members of non-governmental organizations at the meeting than formal delegates (4,979 to 3,638), so the groups have to find some way to fill their days. So do the 1,462 journalists camped out in an enormous tent near the convention center. -- Richard Harris