A mountain to climb in Bali?

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 12 Dec 2007

The United Nations Bali Climate Change Summit feels akin to climbing Mt Everest in just two weeks. For the last 10 days a myriad of bureaucratic sherpas from around the world have been carrying their loads up the mountain, agreeing what can be agreed and setting aside areas of disagreement to be picked up in a last final push to the summit by Ministers when they arrive today for the final three crucial days of negotiations this week.
So what are the chances of getting to the summit? The good news is that the sherpas have paved the way for a summit push. A deal will be on the table for Ministers as they arrive in Bali. With vision and leadership, there will be a clear pathway to negotiating long term commitments that would limit the damage from climate change. The bad news is that there is little sign of that leadership emerging yet. This is the challenge for government Ministers as they board their flights to Bali for the last few days of negotiations.
The deal on the table in Bali is that the industrialised countries will agree to reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020. They will provide funding for the costs of adaptation and to support developing countries in the transition to a low carbon development path, including by agreeing to halt deforestation. The deal is by no means finalised and there are tough negotiations yet to come. But there is some cause for optimism.
It seems an age since the Climate Change Convention was signed at the Earth Summit in 1992. Fifteen years later there is overwhelming scientific agreement that emissions of greenhouse gases seriously affects the climate and the environment. And these are not projections for the future. They are happening now.
This recognition has been reflected in the Bali negotiations. The story of the first week of negotiations has overwhelmingly been of an increased commitment to enable vulnerable people in the poorest countries to be able to adapt to and survive the impacts of climate change. This message has been vividly portrayed by the testimony of Pacific islanders whose countries are disappearing beneath king tides and intense cyclones. There is humanity in the negotiations and many of those at the conference have been moved by the powerful stories from the people of the Pacific.
Similarly, the effectiveness of disaster risk reduction in countries like Bangladesh bears testimony to the importance of supporting poor people in developing countries to adapt to climate change. Over eight million people were affected by the recent cyclone but the relatively low numbers of people killed, while still tragic, was partly due to the early warning system and preparedness. Yet far more could and should be done. The amount of funding available to assist developing countries to adapt to climate change has been pitifully small in relation to the extent of the adaptation needed. For example an existing adaptation programme for the 49 poorest countries has received a pathetic $67 million from rich countries and is only able to fund around only 5% of poor countries most urgent adaptation needs.
These issues have not been accorded the importance they deserve. The main polluting countries in the rich world have not lived up to their commitments to protect others from the consequences of their actions. But adaptation has been front and centre stage in Bali over the past week. After difficult negotiations this week more than 174 member Parties of the Kyoto Protocol agreed to establish a new Adaptation Fund. It will initially be funded by a levy on the Clean Development Mechanism – the trading system that channels funds to projects in developing countries that offset emissions in the industrialised countries. This is an important step forward.
But the challenge remains to raise enough funds. The levy is projected to raise up to $300 million by 2012. But this is dwarfed by scale of the need. Oxfam has estimated the need for adaptation funds to be at least $50 billion per year. New sources of funding need to be found. This is where the bad news comes in. There has been too little political recognition as yet about the need to identify new sources of funds on this scale.
The lack of delivery against commitments has also been reflected in the experience of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite undertakings by the industrialised countries to stabilise emissions, they have risen substantially since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, especially if the collapse of industry in the former Soviet Union states are taken into account. There is little room for error in this negotiations process. Unless there is a turning point soon, the world’s climate will cross even more dangerous thresholds.
The developing countries are rightly concerned over the lack of progress. They did not cause the problem, but they are bearing most of the consequences. Despite recent growth, the per capita emissions of most developing countries are still far less than the rich nations. For example, India is home to 17% of the world’s population but accounts for only 4% of the world’s emissions. Climate equity demands that the industrialised countries – including Australia – move first and furthest.
It is now up to the bevy of new Australian Government Ministers who are just arriving in Bali to deliver the political will that is urgently needed to make this deal work. There are massive public constituencies for strong action on climate change watching Australia closely. Courage and vision will be needed to reach the summit. The next few days will be crucial.
James Ensor is Policy Director for Oxfam Australia and is attending the Bali Summit