The Climes they are a’changin

“Much is at stake … for generations to come! We are running out of time.We are mobilising around the world. We must take strong action NOW!”

Sitting in on the press conferences of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bali 2007, is a bit like watching the Green version of Independence Day – that immensely forgettable film starring Will Smith. While Smith merely had to pilot a UFO deep into the heart of the alien mothership to save Planet Earth, the cast of “Mission Emission” face a far more insidious enemy:”Caaaarrrrbonnnnn!” Colorless, Odourless, and unsettlingly stable. The vast stage in the darkened Bali International Convention Centre takes the place of the “Command Room” where practically every human calamity, from the kidnapping of the US President to the end of the universe, is invariably solved in approximately one and a half hours. An array of perfectly tailored suits deliberate the myriad aspects of the “greatest challenge faced by mankind…. Ever!”

Print journalists doodled nervously on their Bali Convention Centre tear-off pads, camerapersons roamed around in an unfocused manner. Ah! To be present at the site of the renegotiation of the Kyoto Protocol; never was the sense of destiny more manifest. I pulled out my laptop, logged into PlugNPlay, the open conference network, and stroked my keyboard in fevered anticipation as I revised my acronyms: UNFCCC, REDD, GEF, COP, MOP, GHG, HFC. “Am I missing any?” I asked the journalist on my right. “IETA, WBCSD, CDM, IPCC,” she replied as she fiddled with her solar-powered camera.

“The scientists have done their job,” said Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, “It is time for the politicians to do theirs! The World is watching!”

The world may well be watching, but at present there isnt very much to look at. If Mr de Boer is to believed, and there is little reason to disbelieve him, Bali 2007 is not going to tell us what the new targets are going to be, Bali is not going to tell us what the shape of the post-Kyoto world is going to look like. What Bali is expected to focus on is Adaptation, technology Transfer, emission reduction through deforestation and a streamlining of the Clean Development Mechanism.

At lunch time on Day One -3rd December – the freshly elected President Rachmat Witoelar told us exactly what he would define as success in Bali. ” To launch negotiations for the post 2012 period; to agree on agenda (what I presume could be called a launchpad) and a deadline for completion of negotiations – tentatively the Copenhagen Summit in 2009. Unfortunately, watching Witoelar launch a negotiation isnt quite as exciting as watching NASA launch a spaceshuttle. In fact it’s nothing like watching NASA launch a spaceshuttle – not even a little bit, not even at all. It’s about as exciting as watching a bunch of suits talk – which, coincidentally, is exactly what it is.

Bali 07 should also give us what de Boer calls “The Toolbox” – which shall provide Ministers with the means to get down to the nuts and bolts of climate negotiations, and will probably look at a variety of possible instruments – a continuation and expansion of the carbon market, a possible system of auctioning of carbon rights by governments to companies and a possible incorporation of global carbon standards for industry. Global standards will be critical in the context of production processes and the costs associated with decarbonising growth, as local standards are likely to affect production costs and might penalise “cleaner” producers by making their products more expensive. Of course, the toolbox is far finalised – in fact it still being initialized.

Over the next two weeks, I shall try to explore the varied contours of the climate change debate, till then readers can keep abreast of the daily happenings by flipping through the daily bulletins put out by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

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