The deal

In the context of current global politics, what has been achieved here is probably as good as could

So there was me thinking I might get some time to rest in Bali before flying home but it’s been another full day at the Convention Centre.

Negotiations continued through the night on the key remaining sticking points: how to reference the science and targets and whether/how to differentiate between developed and developing countries. This morning a new draft proposal was tabled but on the latter issue, India asked for more time to negotiate. Several hours later, and after a certain amount of semi-organised chaos, a new compromise was reached.

It’s not easy to explain the full story, and also convey the tense and emotional atmosphere in the huge plenary hall, but basically the group of developing countries (G77) proposed an amendment, which was supported by the EU (to much applause). The US then objected to the amendment. What followed was a series of statements from countries across the world with varying degrees of condemnation of the US position. And with the World’s media watching, the United States dropped its objection.

So high drama on the last day (+1). The final outcome is what is being called the ‘Bali Road-Map’; an agenda for the next two years of negotiations. As I have said before, this seems dull and unimportant but believe me it is a critical staging post in the international process and every single word has been pored over and many have been fought over.

I won’t go into great detail on the text but I think there are two ways of looking at the final deal. First, in the context of what is actually needed to address the problem of climate change, the negotiations here have been some way off the mark, largely due to the intransigence at various times and on various issues of the US, Canada, Japan and Russia.

Second, in the context of current global politics, what has been achieved here is probably as good as could be expected in light of the Bush Administration’s history of outright hostility to climate science and to binding international action, particularly in the UN. Despite this hostility, the UN process is still alive and kicking and in my opinion it is the only way we can get governments from across the world to take cooperative action on such a complex interaction of issues.

So, the door is still open for a progressive outcome by the time the talks are supposed to conclude in 2009. But the door has certainly not been closed to a minimalist fudge. The critical question over the coming months and years is about the extent to which politics changes in key countries like the USA and also the extent to which governments like our own put in place the policies necessary to cut the carbon out of our economy.

WDM said at the very outset that the subtext of this negotiation was all about trade and competitiveness given the massive trade deficit the US has with China. And I think this has proved to be the case. The US in particular has been petrified of agreeing to anything that is seen back in the States as being a commitment to action by the US that is much greater than the Chinese. If you are interested, take a look at WDM’s report: Blame it on China? Which explores the international politics of climate change.

On a final note, all I can say is that I feel utterly drained. Sometimes I have wondered what the hell I’m achieving by being here. On a few occasions I’ve felt like I have made a small contribution. On the plus side, I leave here with a strong sense that there is a growing movement of people from all parts of the world seeking real and lasting solutions. Being concerned about climate change is not just the preserve of middle class westerners. The strongest advocates for action are those in developing countries living at the sharp end of its impacts, and the impacts of the ‘quack remedies’ like massive palm oil plantations for bio-diesel. The voices of these people need to be heard.

Please check out WDM’s web site over the coming weeks and months as we upload some of the interviews with developing country activists that I have been able to do here.

Anyway, I hope that you (all three of you) have found the past two weeks of blogging informative, and perhaps at times thought provoking and every now and then entertaining. Maybe you’ll hear from me, or perhaps someone else at WDM, next time governments from across the globe gather together for a big showdown.