The final scene

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“Although we are in Bali I don’t believe that anyone has seen the beach,” said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister and chairman of the UN climate talks in Bali in the closing stages of the conference on Saturday. That is about to change.

Long before the final press briefing was over the conference centre was emptying out. Once the gavel had fallen on the Bali roadmap, exhilaration turned quickly into relief, then exhaustion. Taxis may have been bound for bed rather than the beach.

Despite their obvious tiredness, Mr Witoelar and UNFCCC climate chief Yvo de Boer were upbeat when they faced the media at the end of the day. Mr de Boer told journalists he’d been waking up reciting “launch, agenda, end date” during the night for months.

“Today, all three have come out,” he happily concluded. Mr de Boer described the new agreement as “ambitious” – because it “very clearly” references the IPCC science – “transparent” – because it specifically asks business and civil society for input – and “flexible” – because it brings on board all developed and developing countries.

The EU joined in the all-round praise: “We consider this to be a historical day with a historical outcome, everything will be different in relation to climate change,” said Portugal’s environment minister Francisco Correia Nunes, speaking on behalf of the bloc.

Yes the text demands absolute emission reductions from all developed countries, insisted his junior counterpart Humberto Rosa. This wasn’t obvious to many journalists – including me – and one can’t help but wonder what the US take on it is. No getting hold of the Americans just then however.

Green groups were less enthused – not that that’s unusual – with WWF calling the deal “weak on substance” and Greenpeace lamenting the lack of reference to “crucial cuts” and the “relegation of science to a footnote”.

Carbon market insiders like Abyd Karmali at Merril Lynch said the agreement gave a “somewhat bullish” – i.e. positive – signal to the post-2012 carbon market. Mr Karmali welcomed the agreement on deforestation, a recognition that the Kyoto’s Clean development mechanism (CDM)  must be enhanced, and the 2009 deadline to finish talks on a new treaty. One of the text’s major disappointments, he added, was the absence of quantitative emission reduction targets.

Whether valid or not, I am starting to think perhaps these criticisms, in fact all criticisms are not so important right now. For a moment on Saturday the threat of no agreement at all suddenly became very real. It was an eerie, unsettling feeling.

The key turning point was the impassioned speech by Indonesia’s president followed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. “The mood of the room suddenly exploded,” says Mr de Boer wonderingly. A compromise became possible. And perhaps we should celebrate this, rather than ponder all that was left behind on the negotiating table.

Looking ahead, there are challenges, yes, the largest of which many say will be competition with the US major emitters’ initiative for resources in terms of staff and time for negotiations. Four Bali roadmap meetings are planned for 2008, versus one a month for the US initiative I am told.

But even this can wait for a moment. I’m still in Bali and must congratulate Mr de Boer on highlighting one other element that undoubtedly made much possible these last two weeks – the extremely friendly and respectful approach of the Indonesians themselves.

Of course what I’m going to say is I’d like to experience more of Indonesia, preferably on a Bali beach tomorrow, but at the same time it’s worth noting that if the atmosphere of mutual goals and respect that finally prevailed here can be upheld at future talks, the destination may yet become as real as the roadmap.

P.S. For those of you who want a concise overview of exactly what was agreed in Bali – including decisions on the Kyoto protocol – I recommend this European commission memo.

Bali road map launched

The deal is in the bag! Ministers in Bali have approved the launch of formal negotations on a post-2012 international climate agreement. They also agreed a 2009 end date and a work plan for the next two years.

The text is identical to the draft tabled this morning with small changes to the wording of emission reduction responsibilities for developing countries as proposed by India. Approval became possible when the US dropped its opposition to these changes. 

Ministers are currently still in the plenary moving on to the draft decisions pertaining to the Kyoto protocol. But the atmosphere both inside and outside already seems to be one of relief and elation. Reactions to follow.

Emotions runs high, stalled talks resume

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UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has just walked out of a plenary meeting of ministers in Bali in tears. The secretariat was asked by China why the country had to make two points of order today because meetings were scheduled simultaneously, making attendance at both impossible.

Mr de Boer began his reponse several times, each time having to break off as emotion overtook him, before explaining that the secretariat had not been aware of the situation. Thereupon he hurried out of the room.

Emotions are running high in Bali. After convening in plenary this morning to approve a draft road map to a post-2012 climate agreement, ministers were forced to adjourn their meeting before lunch when India opposed the draft. India wanted to change the wording of planned emission reduction actions for the developing world.

China requested the plenary to be suspended and entered into consultations with the G77. For the last few hours ministers and officials outside this group loitered in the corridors waiting for the plenary to resume. Rumours swirled that issues other than the Indian proposal remained unresolved. Flights were again changed.

Eventually, the plenary resumed just before 2pm. Indonesia’s president gave an impassioned speech reminding delegates of their commitment to a breakthrough on climate change. UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon followed, speaking along similar lines. Both received standing ovations.

Following Mr de Boer’s apology to China, business resumed. As I write, the US has reversed its initial opposition to the Indian proposal, earning a standing ovation to replace earlier booing. Many countries are also supporting a proposal tabled by Bangladesh that seeks to introduce for developing countries, as already exists for developed countries, a clause saying mitigation actions will take into account national circumstances.

“We are very, very close to the agreement we are all seeking,” says the Indonesian conference chair. It’s 2:30pm.

First results

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It’s just after 9:30am. Negotiators in Bali have managed to secure provisional agreement on a “roadmap” to a post-2012 international climate agreement. At first glance, the document appears to be more a victory for the US and its supporters Japan, Canada and Australia than for the EU. But initial reactions are divided.

What no one can dispute is that the document clearly launches formal negotiations on a post-2012 climate treaty, to be completed by 2009.

Its proposed work plan to guide these negotiations is more ambiguous. Direct mention of the need for developed countries to cut their emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020, relative to 1990 levels, and for global emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years and then be at least halved by 2050 have been deleted from the preamble.

A requirement for “much deeper cuts” by developed countries has been replaced by a requirement for “deep cuts” in global emissions.

The IPCC findings are still referenced but to see the actual numbers a footnote now directs you to the original IPCC report on mitigation. What does this mean? The formulation is clearly not as strong as the EU wanted – the numbers are not in the preamble but in a report footnoted in the preamble.

Nevertheless, Philip Clapp, president of the US National Environmental Trust insists the reference to the science is “very strong” because the numbers are directly linked to the text, even if at one step removed. The US had maintained it did not want any reference to specific emission reduction ranges.

On the other key issue of translating this long-term ambition into emission reduction goals for developed and developing countries, again the US appears to come out on top. Instead of asking developed countries simply for emission reduction commitments, the text offers them “nationally appropriate commitments or actions”, which could include reductions.

What does this mean? Some are saying inclusion of the words “nationally appropriate” effectively kills off the idea of internationally-agreed binding emission caps because decision-making power is shifted to the national arena. This is something that has been consistently advocated by the US.

Leaving the door open to “actions” instead of demanding commitments also seems to weaken the text. This is especially true when you see the same word used to describe potential developing country initiatives. The US had been arguing that the commitments of developed and major developing country emitters should come closer together.

Not everyone believes the text on emission reduction goals is weak. Mr Clapp says it’s a very open text but this is not necessarily a bad thing. While being acceptable to the current US administration, it also opens the door to a new administration taking on binding emission reduction targets.

Long-term ambitions and emission reduction commitments are not the only elements in the roadmap. The document also sets out work plans for adaptation, technology transfer and financing. Each of these is worked out in more detail in separate papers agreed by negotiators yesterday.

The overall roadmap and more detailed work plans must all still be approved by ministers. They are meeting as I write.

Brink of agreement

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has said he thinks we are on the brink of agreement to a Bali roadmap. This does not imply an early finish. When pushed on the time issue by journalists desperate to squeeze in a bite to eat, Mr de Boer acknowledged talks were likely to carry on throughout the night.

His spokesman John Hay confirmed a nasty rumour that UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon is due to return to Bali – he’s presently elsewhere – for a final address at 11am on Saturday morning. “He has to come back here anyway for a refuelling stop,” added Mr Hay but even he did not look like he believed this.

So we’re here for the night. It’s just after midnight and the press room is a lively place. During his last update, Mr de Boer provided a useful progress report. The primary outstanding issue remains how to word the long term climate ambitions and mitigation goals for developed and developing countries.

Conclusions on adaptation, financing and deforestation have all been agreed, save for some language linking them to mitigation. They join technology transfer, which was agreed last night. Details of a review of the Kyoto protocol have also been agreed.

This means it’s down to settling the ambition and mitigation text. Once that’s done, ministers will have to decide whether to launch formal negotiations and by when they want them to finish. They are expected to do so and set a 2009 end date. Assuming all this goes ahead as planned, what will the new agreement be called asked one journalist?

Mr de Boer added this to his to-do list. The document is currently entitled “consolidated text prepared by the co-facilitators”.

But all may not go as smoothly as this. At a press conference earlier in the day Munir Akram, chairman of the G77 and China group, told journalists developing countries were being threatened with trade sanctions to sign up to “commitments and obligations” on mitigation:

“The G77 has no obligation under the [UN] convention to accept binding targets,” he emphasised, “our measures will be voluntary, they’ll be national, and they’ll be in the context of sustainable development.”

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Mr Akram said developing countries had faced an uphill battle in Bali and it had proved “extremely difficult” to secure a commitment from developed countries, especially the US, to enhanced mitigation efforts in future. He stressed several times that the priority for developing countries was to see full implementation of the existing UN climate convention and Kyoto protocol, not a sidelining of these by a new agreement.

Mr de Boer responded he was not aware of anyone having been threatened, but emphasised that the issues at stake went to the very heart of economic policy and tensions were running high.

The G77 and China chairman predicted negotiations would continue for “a few hours at least”. That’s proved optimistic. Ministers in the small working group dedicated to ambition and mitigation were due to report back to the main body of ministers at midnight. In the meantime it’s 1:20am and there’s still no sign of them.

I heard a few minutes ago the final plenary session is provisionally planned for 8am. Some are calling even that optimistic. As the trickle of information has dried up, journalists – including me – have started hanging around the coffee bar outside the locked meeting room, occasionally mobbing someone when they emerge.

A few are considering going home to sleep. That seems a shame after a week of build-up. But not as incredible as one Dutch journalist who apparently flew home today because he figured he could report on the final details from behind his own desk.

Breakthrough?

Things are moving. The Indonesian presidency of the UN talks in Bali has tabled a compromise text on how future emission reduction commitments could be worded in a Bali roadmap. German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel is suddenly calling the US “flexible”. Journalists are looking busy.

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The proposed text, which ENDS has seen, drops the notorious 25-40 per cent cuts for developed countries but says global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next 10-15 years and be reduced to “very low levels, well below half of 2000 levels by 2050″. These are “facts” that should guide future action to combat climate change, it says.

All that’s left of the original statement that developed countries need to make “much deeper cuts” in the range of 25-40 per cent by 2020 is: “developed countries should continue to take the lead in combating climate change and its impacts”.

All this has to do with the preamble of the proposed Bali roadmap. Indonesia’s compromise text also suggests changes to the operative part of the paper. This includes removing the word “national” from a section calling for consideration of quantified emission reduction commitments by developed countries.

In the same section a call to consider the work of the Kyoto protocol’s working group has also been deleted.

What does all this mean? Before I speculate, I should warn you that things are shifting very quickly here now. Nevertheless, the draft compromise text as it stands, which sources say was well-received, indicates the US may now be open to including specific long-term global emission reduction goals in the preamble to a Bali roadmap.

This would be a significant victory for the EU. At the same time, the sticking point appears to be what distinction there should be between developed and developing countries and exactly what the former should commit to at this stage.

Deleting the word “national” from the section on developed country emission reduction commitments suggests the US may be sticking to its guns on the point that while long-term shared emission reduction goals can be agreed internationally, each nation should then be free to decide its own national goal and strategy to achieve it.

Removing reference to the Kyoto protocol adds to the idea that the US and its supporter(s) would want to be as free as possible to set their national goals.

But all this is speculation. A UNFCCC press conference that was due to start in 15 minutes has just been pushed back by an hour-and-a-half, which doesn’t bode well. Rumours abound that some ministers have already changed their flight schedules.

Meanwhile, there is also confusion over the status of discussions on the other building blocks of the roadmap, like deforestation. Contrary to reports earlier this morning, several delegates have since said forestry talks have not yet been concluded, although a final agreement along the lines of what I reported is “very close”.

One source of confusion is that this conference must produce two outputs for these building blocks: first, draft conclusions that must be approved by ministers in their final plenary session, and second, a decision on how to reference the building block in the overall Bali roadmap.

Clearly the two are linked, but UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer suggested earlier today that draft conclusions on deforestation, adaptation and financing are pretty much ready and it is how they must be referenced in the overall roadmap that remains to be decided.

As I write, two working groups are meeting, each comprised of a small selection of minsters together representing all other parties. One group is finalising work on deforestation, adaptation and financing – technology transfer was fully concluded last night – and the other is working on the Bali roadmap. I’m hoping Mr Gabriel was right when he said “it’s going a bit better.”

Deforestation agreement

Consensus on a draft deforestation text closes another controversial item on the Bali agenda. Parties reached agreement late last night, announced Greenpeace representative Marcelo Furtado on Friday morning.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas confirmed the deal in his morning statement to the press, calling it a “good balance”.

Deforestation has been a key issue for several major developing countries here, including hosts Indonesia, India, and Brazil. It accounts for a fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Like the technology transfer agreement, this deal moves the UN one step closer to a comprehensive road map for a post-2012 climate treaty.

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The agreement removes reference to considering deforestation and forest conservation under the wider theme of “land use”, said Mr Furtado. This term, pushed by the US, is very broad and would have introduced a host of fresh complexities . The text also introduces a clear separation between reducing emissions from deforestation and land degradation (REDD) on the one hand and promoting sustainable forest management and conservation on the other, he added.

The text recommends introducing specific policies and incentives to tackle the former, while subjecting the latter to further investigation. These incentives could include issuing carbon credits for REDD.

Carbon finance manager at the World Bank Joelle Chassard told ENDS she welcomed the agreement. Earlier this week the World Bank launched a forest carbon fund that will pilot financial incentive mechanisms to reduce deforestation and land degradation.

Ms Chassard said the World Bank recognises forest conservation may be something that should be rewarded. “It’s something we want to look at,” she said. She also said it makes sense to first focus on deforestation and degradation, since the accounting methodology for conservation-type activities is much more complicated.

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