The beginning of the end game

Peter Hardstaff on how things are getting intense over in Bali at the climate conference

You might not have guessed from the picture that has been selected to appear at the top of this blog page, but I’m actually a serious and intense sort of person. Which is starting to come in handy because things are getting increasingly serious and intense.

Now I have no doubt that for many outside observers a lot of this stuff will appear dreadfully dull. Let’s face it, governments have come all this way to hold talks about having further talks. We all want outcomes and we want them now.

The media will be desperately trying to find a clear cut win/lose story at the end but in all probability there wont be one – unless the whole thing collapses (very bad news) or governments create a framework here in Bali that essentially ‘locks-in’ an ambitious and equitable agreement in a couple of years time (good result).

However, in all likelihood, we’ll get some sort of score-draw with some positives and negatives, or perhaps a no-score-draw, where no agreement is reached but everyone is still rhetorically committed to the process. This latter scenario could be pretty desperate given the urgent need to get some agreed and binding action out of rich countries so that the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol can continue smoothly after 2012.

So, the word in the corridors on what is going on is as follows …

Everyone is rhetorically committed to doing a deal but major differences remain.

Some larger developing countries are prepared to talk about what kind of contribution they can make in reducing emissions but in return they want meaningful talks on transferring technology from rich countries to poor countries (opposed by the US, EU and others).

The US is playing a blocking game here and is trying to create its own process outside the UN for talks on voluntary action with what it calls ‘the big emitters’.

Australia isn’t sure what it wants because the new administration hasn’t had time to communicate to its negotiators what the new strategy is. So Australian officials are in what they call a ‘holding pattern’, which seems to translate into being either silent or moderately obstructive.

The Saudis are still trying to insert language in the text that opens the door for ‘compensation’ for lost oil revenue (they just won’t let it go).

The EU is playing a relatively more progressive role here (emphasis on the word ‘relatively’) and is pushing for specific language on targets (opposed by the US, Japan, Canada and Russia) but my fear is that the EU will get outplayed by the US in the final hours of the talks (seen it happen before).

The small island states are still demanding, cajoling and pleading for more radical and urgent action but it’s falling largely on deaf ears.

Word is that Number 10 is worried about how the outcome (i.e. just an agreement on a future agenda for talks) will play with the UK media and public given high expectations of some action. I think the main action we need to see from Number 10 is scrapping plans for airport expansion, coal fired power stations, nuclear plants and ever more roads.