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Post-Bali 2007: Lessons Learned

Contact: Jay Natoli, (202) 785-8683 or December 21, 2007  

WASHINGTON, DC; December, 15 2007 - At the conclusion of the UN-sponsored environmental conference in Bali last week, leaders and delegates from around the world erupted into applause. They were celebrating the fact that American delegates who, after threatening to boycott the international agreement to address climate change, finally agreed to a compromise with their European counterparts.  The Europeans wanted developed countries to commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 25-40% from 1990 levels by 2020.  The US is notoriously the only industrial country that refuses to ratify the Kyoto Treaty despite being responsible for a quarter of the earth's emissions.

Did the delegates' celebration mean that the US conceded to some sort of binding agreement?  Unfortunately, no. American delegates dismissed the need for targets because, according to U.S. chief negotiator Harlan Watson, "The reality in this business is that once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction." [1]

One can imagine the British delegates saying, "Elementary, my dear Watson; the purpose of international conferences is to prejudge an outcome." 

Nor did the celebration mean that the American diplomats had eased up on demanding that developing countries should be held to the same standards as wealthy ones.  Daniel M. Price, President Bush's deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, indicated that a post-Kyoto framework "will simply not be effective" without the cooperation of developing countries.  Although this is probably true, critics of that argument say that comparing the emissions of wealthy countries and developing nations is like comparing Apple computers and oranges.  More specifically,  Everton Vieira Vargas, a senior Brazil delegate, retorted that it is "very different" to compare the carbon released by supplying Chinese villagers with electricity with emissions from sports cars in rich countries. [2]

So why the applause?  Because the Americans agreed to keep talking about the possibility of participating in an international climate change agreement at some point in the future.  The delegates condoning their American counterparts' efforts was not unlike a babysitter cooing over a fussy child for tolerating vegetables on his plate.  People remotely concerned about global warming peer beyond Bush's presidency like the allegorical babysitter looks towards the clock on the wall, waiting for the parents to return and regain authority.  This includes mutinous Americans who are proud to be ashamed of their leader.  American Democrats attending the conference told negotiators to ignore the Bush administration's delegation and work towards creating an agreement with actual targets.  Al Gore, with the glow beffitting a Nobel Prize winner, announced that he had high hopes that the next president would be more sympathetic to environmental issues.  But perhaps the most eco-friendly participant at the conference was Representative Edward J. Markey, Chairman of Congress' Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  Markey appeared as a virtual (and well-toned!) representation of himself at the internet's virtual conference on the social site "Second Life."  His "appearance" sent bloggers into a flurry: what if future conferences were held in virtual space, sparing the thousands of tons of emissions generated by participants' transportation?[3]

Of course, America's next president won't have to attend virtual conferences to achieve widespread international support.  He or she will simply have to show an interest in fixing the environmental crisis that we have already entered.  Bush's first big failing was that he failed to make use of the outpouring of international support immediately after 9/11. He shouldered off the warm embrace of diplomacy in favor of waging a widely condemned invasion of Iraq, whose devastating effects we are seeing today.  Like Bush post 9-11, the next president will have a chance to engage in widespread cooperation with leaders abroad and politicians at home.  He or she will have a team of experts committed to averting climate change, including Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, domestic powers like the House of Representatives, environmental icons like Al Gore, and climate experts like the 2500 of the world's brightest scientists that make up the IPCC.

Bush's Administration treated scientists like meddlers who should have confined their environmental research to library shelves.  When a Democratic Congressional report found that the Bush Administration had seriously distorted scientific and government reports on the urgency of addressing global warming, Rep. Thomas M. Davis, the ranking Republican on the House committee said that the report ignored "the legitimate role of policymakers, instead of scientists, in making administration policy."[4]  The next president would be wise to realize the legitimate role of scientists in telling policymakers what they need to do to save the planet, and the obligation of policymakers to implement those policies.

Thanks for reading -- hope you enjoy the cartoon. Talk to you next year!

-Courtenay Lewis

LCV Communications staff






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