And the biggest NGO in Bali?

Who is actually attending the Bali climate conference

So, who do you think is the biggest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Bali? Which NGO do you think has registered the most delegates to attend the climate conference? Is it Greenpeace? Is it the World Wide Fund for Nature? Could it be Friends of the Earth? Or maybe big business lobbyists the International Chamber of Commerce?

A couple of days ago I went through the official delegates list and did the complex mathematics (i.e. counting) to work this out. And to my surprise it’s a big fat nope to all of these guys.

It turns out the biggest NGO delegation in Bali is the lobbying group, the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). With 336 representatives including lawyers, financiers, emissions traders, consultants, certifiers and emissions trading experts from companies like Shell, the IETA makes up 7.5% of the 4483 Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) delegates registered to attend the UN climate talks. Staggering, and also quite worrying (more about this later).

The IETA totally dwarfs even the largest environmental groups like WWF (2%), Greenpeace (1.6%), Friends of the Earth (1.52%) as well as big development organisations like Oxfam (1.31%). In addition, a close look at the list shows that well over half the delegates registered for these groups are actually from the region (with many from Indonesia itself) and they also do a favour to smaller organisations who don’t yet have their own individual official status with the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) by including them on their list. WDM’s sole representative (me) - comprising a massive 0.02% of the total NGO delegates - is actually registered under Friends of the Earth’s name for this reason.

Interestingly (?), the second largest NGO delegation is from something called the ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. This group has registered 282 delegates (6.3% of the NGO total) and, as far as I can work out, includes a range of local government officials from across the world. Bizarrely, their delegates list also includes a selection of Hollywood celebrities such as Michelle Yeoh, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and George Clooney, and Bollywood celeb Shilpa Shetty.

Haven’t seen these guys around the convention centre yet. I guess they are planning to beam in next week for a surgical strike on the media once the politicians have arrived.

Anyway, back to the emissions traders and their massive delegation. I think the fact that the IETA is the biggest NGO in Bali just highlights the massive expansion in this industry over the past few years. Emissions trading is big business and it’s global. The worrying side of this is the potential influence they will wield over the talks.

Emissions traders will be pushing hard to expand their business based on the argument that if it is cheaper, easier and more economically efficient to pay for emissions reductions in developing countries, it makes more sense to do this than pay more for emissions reductions in rich countries. Kind of works on paper but in the real world it’s been riddled with problems that essentially make it a massive loophole: rich countries avoiding reducing their own emissions and bunging money at various dodgy schemes that don’t result in a clear benefit and can even end up harming local people.

Some are deeply suspicious of the whole thing and for good reason. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the idea of people making money out of the desire to tackle climate change, but this can only be legitimate as far as I’m concerned if it actually reduces emissions, if it’s not a loophole for rich countries and if it works without unwanted side-effects.

So far emissions trading has not proved it can deliver what is needed, yet governments will be lobbied heavily here in Bali to expand trading by the growing number of companies that stand to make money from it.

These climate talks could set in stone a deal that lasts for years. It may be our last chance to get it right and I think governments would be crazy to put all their eggs in a basket full of holes.