Climate Change Conference -Statements of the obvious at Bali

It seems that the delegates at Bali’s Climate Change Conference have agreed that they will not set firm emission targets at this stage but will negotiate them over a two year period and that the new targets agreed in 2009 will replace those set down in Kyoto.

The developing countries, in particular China, thought that their own economic development would be slowed down if they agreed to reduce emissions, so they did not want to use language that was too indicative of what must be done. When the delegates finally reached their “deal” or “roadmap” it was reported that there were hugs and tears. Before then there were boos for the United States. T

he leadership of our own Hilary Benn, Environment Minister, on climate change with his marvellous Climate Change Bill was simply ignored. In any event the United Nations had already earlier called it a blueprint for the way for developed nations to increase their carbon emissions, so this is not surprising. 

I have not yet been able to read the actual text of what was agreed but reports are that the text indicates that the world will (1) acknowledges the need to have emission cuts, (2) help developing countries with transferring “clean technology”, (3) reward countries that stop deforestation and (4) help the very poor countries that will be worse affected by climate change. I have never been convinced that targets for emission reductions are the best way to reduce emissions; I think that you need policies, not targets – things like mandatory use of renewable energy, taxing heavily polluting things and banning some really heavy pollutants.  

Today these ideas are too radical to be adopted because although we are in reality fighting a war against climate change, it is a war where the enemy is not “in your face” and the effects that we feel are remote and can still be dealt with on a superficial level.  The general agreement on the need for emission cuts is hailed as an achievement. I cannot see why; the need for emission cuts is obvious, even to a blind man in the Blackwall Tunnel in a pea souper fog.   

The need to transfer “clean technology” to developing countries is also obvious; the trouble is that there is not a lot of clean technology around and the existing clean technology is barely used by governments of the developed world. Less than 2% of the United Kingdom’s energy comes from clean technology, and most of that figure is made up from electricity generated by hydro schemes in Scotland, which are not entirely clean in their initial creation. Other countries may do a lot better than us but in relation to their overall dirty energy use but the proportion of clean energy used is still tiny, even in places like Germany. So in this respect the agreement is virtually worthless. 

The most important thing that might come out of Bali is the preservation of forests and the re-establishment of them These carbon sinks are the best way we have of storing carbon and a massive forest protection and planting program will help keep the carbon dioxide levels rising more slowly than otherwise. 

As far as the part of the text that says that we will help the very poorest countries cope with the floods famine, and destruction that climate change will wreak on them by giving them aid – well, I would have thought we would have done that anyway, without having to travel to Bali to say so.