Perhaps the most important meeting of our time opened today in Bali, Indonesia. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with attendees by delegates from over 180 countries, will set the global tenor towards climate change for the coming decade. The convention looks to create a new framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol with its cap-and-trade system, which expires in 2012, and chart a global plan for emissions controls in what the official press release unabashedly calls a “political breakthrough.”
The convention got off to a good start when the new Australian Prime Minister ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Australia, which has a huge coal industry, is one of the world’s heaviest carbon emitters on a per-capita basis — and this move leaves the U.S. as the only industrial power not in the pact. The Senate voted 95-0 in 1997 saying that that U.S. should not sign any climate protocols that did not include mandates for developing nations. President Bush has cited China specifically in his continued abstention from ratification. Will the U.S. alienate itself again, stagnating talks with India and China, or will the U.S. look to be a global leader in this environmental moon shot?
Getting the U.S., one of the world’s top emitter of green house gases, to come to some sort of agreement to reduce emissions will be a major goal of the two-week conference. While the American delegation has said it will not be a “roadblock” to negotiations, Washington is still very resistant to mandatory emission reductions, as the Wall Street Journal notes. Without the U.S.’s participation, it is unlikely that China and India, with their explosive and polluting growth, will agree to limit their emissions. (China overtook the US in emissions according to this report)
Now that Australia has ratified Kyoto, America is the last key player in opposing a cap-and-trade system with mandatory emission reductions. However, such a carbon trading system isn’t perfect, and the U.N.’s own Clean Development provision, which allows developed nations to offset their own emissions by investing in clean technologies in developing nations, came under fire last week for allegedly increasing emissions. Still, a cap-and-trade system effectively eliminated emissions causing acid rain in the U.S., which is being cited in new climate change legislation being proposed in the Senate.
The U.N. is looking to have a solid framework with deadlines by 2009. What takes place in Bali over the next two weeks will determine if the world’s developed and developing nations can work together to take real action on climate change by addressing carbon emissions. “The eyes of the world are upon you. There is a huge responsibility for Bali to deliver,” Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the conference, said. “The world now expects a quantum leap forward.”