Coats, Ties Come Off at Bali Talks Climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, are gearing up this week, as environment ministers gather from around the world. Delegates will be dressing less formally to save on air conditioning.
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Coats, Ties Come Off at Bali Talks

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Coats, Ties Come Off at Bali Talks

Coats, Ties Come Off at Bali Talks

Coats, Ties Come Off at Bali Talks

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, are gearing up this week, as environment ministers gather from around the world. Delegates will be dressing less formally to save on air conditioning.


Well, today kicks off week two of the International Climate Talks on the tropical isle of Bali. Ali, why has it not surprise me that they decided that this news would be a multi-week event.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: We're going to need a lot of time on the island to really get to the bottom of this global warming thing. One interesting side note, by the way, conference officials had exempted certain staff from wearing jackets and ties to the low-level meetings, because they said they want to, quote, "conduct discussions anymore comfortable environment as well as limit the use of air conditioning and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions." All right, so they're trying to control their own carbon footprint at the conference - how they're doing with the rest of the world? We'll find out now.

Joining us live from Bali to give us an update is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris.

Hi, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS: Hey, how's it going?

BURBANK: Great. Yeah. Tough assignment, huh? You're in Bali, and you're being ordered to wear shorts.

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, although that was supposed to be last week. I think they're supposed to dress up again this week. But believe me, it is miserably hot here. There are so many media (unintelligible) have actually erected the enormous tent and they are futilely attempting to air-condition it with the whole phalanx of air-conditioners. And they're basically, you know - if they could air-condition the planet that would be nice but actually, all they're doing is generating more heat here, so it's a…

BURBANK: I'm not a science correspondent but I think air-conditioning the planet would be a bad idea from a kind of geothermal standpoint. All right, so as far as what they're trying to do there in Bali this week, they're not actually even trying to get to a sort of agreement. They're just trying to lay the groundwork for the next thing that will come after the Kyoto Protocol, is that right?

HARRIS: That's right. I mean, this has become such a tough process that I think, you know, people have been trying very hard to lower the expectations of - about what this meeting is going to accomplish. And if you can just sort of say that we are going to agree to really negotiate and really seriously in the next two years, they would say, okay, that's victory for this meeting.

So you've got what more than 10,000 people who piled in here to attend this conference and they're going to come home with - if they're lucky - they're going to come home with an incredibly modest step. But I mean, it is - (unintelligible) how tough it is to make any progress in such a thorny an issue that really touches everyone very deeply and in a lot of different ways.

BURBANK: Even folks who don't know a lot about this topic have probably heard of the Kyoto agreement, which the U.S. has signed but not ratified. The U.S. being, I think the last major country that is not on board with this. This new proposal is supposed to kind of move that whole thing forward. What are some of the differences between the new proposal and this Kyoto agreement?

HARRIS: Well, we don't know what the new proposal is going to be so there could be a world of differences. But one possibility is the new agreement wouldn't be one agreement. It might be a collection of things because United States, as you said, is not interested in playing by the Kyoto rules and everybody else in the developed world, almost, is.

And so, if the U.S. isn't going to say okay, we change our mind, we're going to do it, then they're trying to think of some sort of arrangement so the U.S. could kind of do its own thing but kind of be under a general umbrella that would cover everybody. And not say, okay, you're either in Kyoto or you're out and that's it.

So they're trying to do some very creative statesmanship here to figure out how you can - how they can bring the U.S. into the rest of the world without sort of upsetting the U.S.'s pretty strict stance about not really being interested in this treaty.

BURBANK: Is there…

HARRIS: And it's also really late to join, too.

BURBANK: Is there any way that, you know, the next Kyoto - I guess it will be called the Bali Protocol? Or I guess it depends on where they sign it, right? What are they going to call it?

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, the issue is that, yeah, for the next two years, they're going to be negotiating this, they hope. And that meeting that is supposed to be the final meeting is in Copenhagen, so it would be end up being called the Copenhagen Protocol if they, in fact, end up with something, so…


Two years to negotiate it? Why does it two years?

HARRIS: Yeah, well, there are so many contentious issues out here. I mean, the U.S. is - we've talked about is already sort of isolated it from the rest of the developed world on this. And then there are huge schisms between the developed world and the developing world. I mean, this is sort of - there are, you know, it brings to the surface every kind of issue you can imagine. Suspicion that we're trying to limit greenhouse gases to slow down their economies to people in, you know, in Southern Africa. And someone saying, well, geez, you guys have created 99 percent of the problem and we are going to be really the biggest victims of all.

Which is true. The rich countries are making the problems and we're probably -we'll suffer some but we won't suffer as much as places like Bangladesh and some of these small islands that are going to, you know, really feel it. And in particular, the sub-Saharan Africa where it's going to get hotter and drier and harder to grow food. And, you know, and, you know, they're in a position where they're basically not contributing at all and they're going to really bare the brunt of this.

BURBANK: If the U.S. doesn't get on board with the Copenhagen Protocol, let's say, does that mean that it's kind of moot? I mean, impossible for this to be an effective document, an effective agreement that doesn't involve the U.S.?

HARRIS: Well, it's going to have to involve the U.S. one way or the other. And the interesting thing that's happening is that we're starting to see so much action first on the state and (unintelligible) level in the U.S. And now, Congress is making noises about doing something serious about climate change.

And the interesting rule about treaties is that it's easy to agree to do something that you're already doing, and that's usually how treaties work. And so if the U.S. actually starts to limit its emissions as a result of these local efforts, then it will be easy to sign on to a - or easier to sign on to a treaty that because we'll know what we can accomplish.

I think that, you know, the U.S. - one reason that the U.S. didn't sign on to it is that it seemed like an incredibly daunting task to make our targets. And in fact, most European nations are not really going to make their targets. They're going to have to sort of buy their way out. And the U.S. had a different attitude just like if we can't - if we're not reasonably sure we're going to make these targets, we're not going to start. So it's just a different philosophy in part.

BURBANK: I saw one proposal that was being floated that talked about developing countries reducing their emissions to, like, by 40 percent from 1999 levels by 2020. So basically, by 2020, to have it down almost half from what it was in 1999, that seemed really ambitious. Is something like that even remotely possible?

HARRIS: Well, the European governments are talking about that as though it is possible. Although, like Spain for example, their emissions gone up by double digits since 1990. So I mean, it's not all clear that people can do it. I mean, again, it's sort of a philosophical thing. It's a story of the guy who comes to a wall going across the field, and he figured this wall looks really hard to get over. And so he throws his hat over he figures, now, I have to go over the wall.

And I think that's sort of how the Europeans are looking at this. It's like, you know, we have to do it so let's just say we will and then figure it out later. And the U.S. says, hmm, this wall looks pretty tough. I'm not going to throw my hat over. I like my hat. So I mean, in some ways that sort of epitomizes the difference in approach here. But - so the Europeans talk big and they hope that, you know, once, if you really believe that you can, that you have to do it, which - there's an argument that you do - then you say, we'll figure it out later.

BURBANK: Just quickly, Richard, as we wrap up here, is there a different feeling being at this kind of conference in 2007 with - Al Gore's got a Nobel Prize, and it just seems to be a kind of agreed upon notion that greenhouse, you know, gases exist and that the climate is changing and this and that. Does it feel different being there as opposed to ones in the past?

HARRIS: I think it does. And I think that there is so much momentum of public interest in this right now that it's amazing to me that there are 10,000 people here even though the expectations of what's going to be accomplished here is pretty small. And it's just a huge cheering effect to think, come on, you got to do something about it. And it's pretty amazing to see all these people here. I mean, not all delegates, by any means, a lot of the non-governmental organizations, kids from around the world, all sorts of people here just sort of trying to put on the pressure.

BURBANK: NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris, live from Bali. Richard, I have seen you. You are pale. Wear some sunscreen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HARRIS: Okay, I'll take your advice.

BURBANK: All right.

STEWART: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Hey, Rudy Giuliani went mano-a-mano yesterday morning on "Meet the Press" and Hillary Clinton's tried to battle double O-eight. More on our Monday morning political segment.

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