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CLIMATE CHANGE: NGOs Frustrated in Bali

Eric Lemus

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Dec 12 2007 (IPS) - Representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) called for greater accountability on the part of industrialised countries and a firmer stance by developing nations in order to avert failure at the current conference on climate change in Indonesia.

Environmentalists are feeling frustrated at the 13th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place Dec. 3 to 14 on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Ministerial delegates must agree an agenda and a timetable of measures to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, which if unchecked would cause irreversible and catastrophic climate alterations.

But the positions expressed by delegates from Canada and Japan during the first week have been disappointing for those expecting wealthy nations to take on commitments under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

"The delegates are still working as if this were just any old meeting; the focus could be climate change, the international price of bananas, or whatever," Marcelo Furtado, an activist with Greenpeace Brazil, told IPS.

Government delegates must behave responsibly if they want to make this meeting a success, said a communiqué issued by the international environmental watchdog.

Developing nations should take on a more proactive role, because "the industrialised nations aren’t putting any money on the table, nor are they making any commitments to reduce their future emissions of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas)," said Furtado. The debate is about what is going to happen after the 2012 deadline for the industrialised states party to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. The exception is the United States, which did not ratify the protocol.

Earlier this year, governments came to an informal consensus that by 2020, emissions should be cut to between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels.

"This is an emission reduction range, it’s not a target, and it’s something that governments said earlier this year they should be guided by in the context of the negotiations," UNFCCC Secretary Yvo de Boer said on Tuesday.

The U.S. government’s consistent opposition to mandatory emission reductions has now been reinforced by Canada and Japan, which have ruled out a specific commitment unless all large emitters adopt the same reduction quotas.

Such a policy would directly affect the emerging economies of India and China, which are not bound by any obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997.

Scientists are calling on governments to make a commitment that would stop global greenhouse gas emissions from further increase within 10 to 15 years. In order to keep the earth’s average temperature from increasing more than two degrees Celsius this century, and to prevent some of the worst consequences of global warming, a reduction of at least 50 percent of emissions by 2050 is required.

"This agreement cannot simply be reduced to a play of interests," said climate change analyst Karen Suassuna of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Brazil, referring to Canada’s unhelpful attitude. "Industrialised countries are boycotting all the issues of vital interest to developing countries," she added.

Friends of the Earth International (FoE) issued a bulletin regretting that industrialised countries are unwilling to adopt an agreement to reduce polluting emissions by at least 40 percent. "Ten years on from Kyoto, the science of climate change is even more alarming," said Tony Juniper, executive director of the federation of environmental organisations from over 70 countries.

Except for the support of Canada and Japan, Washington is isolated. There are also dissenting voices from within the U.S. itself. Democratic Senator John Kerry, for instance, was present at the conference.

He told reporters that he believed the U.S. Congress would establish a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions by 2009. He also said the United States must lead the way cutting emissions to convince developing nations like China to take action.

At one of the parallel meetings, a delegation from California presented Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s policies to combat global warming.

In 2006, Schwarzenegger pushed through a law that envisages an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, by 2050. The plan combines mandatory targets, regulation, flexibility mechanisms and new incentives.

Some participants are more optimistic about the international talks.

"Since the publication of the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international community and people in general have begun to understand that climate change is a threat that has specific causes," activist Paulo Prado, head of environmental policy for the Brazilian branch of Conservation International, told IPS.

"There is greater awareness of the fact that if I consume more gasoline, I am contributing more to global warming," he said.

In the view of others, however, the fundamental issues are not even present in Bali.

"I’m fully aware that whatever happens at this conference will be of no use at all, because our way of life is not in harmony with nature," said Eugenio del Valle, a delegate for the Mexican Revolutionary Federation of Workers and Campesinos (CROC).

"If you analyse the roots of our cultures, you’ll see they were societies that lived as they did in order to serve the earth. We give it nothing. We just take and take. Whose fault is that?" the trade unionist asked.

In the corridors of the conference centre, the press waited for confirmation of the arrival of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore, as if the presence of the former U.S. vice president might change the minds of the most inflexible negotiators.

While tempers heat up in the convention centre where 10,000 participants have gathered from more than 180 countries, outside the traffic has become increasingly jammed as the large ministerial delegations arrive.

The peaceful routine that tourists on the island are accustomed to is shattered. Every hotel and shopping mall is patrolled by police officers, and every street is crowded with cars ferrying delegates here and there.

But no one loses their cool or seems concerned about the pollution the traffic is causing. In fact, taxi drivers seem very pleased with the conference, whether or not it succeeds in its aims.

With a big smile, Ketut Kerta, 32, said that although the temperatures in Bali have risen in the last five years, the main thing is that "thanks to the summit, incomes have risen too."

Environment ministers now have only from Wednesday to Friday to come up with a road map for enhanced global action to fight climate change after 2012.

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