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.

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.”

Gloomy faces

Empty corridors belied intense negotiations behind closed doors last night.

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At around 11:30pm, the US tabled a “bombshell” – in the words of agitated NGOs this morning – recommending removing all reference to binding emission reductions from a Bali roadmap.

The draft was distributed to journalists in the early hours by Greenpeace. It removes the distinction between developed and developing countries, recommending “enhanced action on mitigation” for all.

Four alternatives to differentiate between the action required by different countries are proposed:

-“level of economic development and significance”

-“level of economic development and greenhouse gas contributions”

-“level of economic development and energy utilisation”

-“the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and responsive capabilities”

All potential action, from national emission caps to domestic plans and measures to binding market-based or sectoral programmes, is prefaced by “as appropriate”.

This morning, Greenpeace claimed the US did not have any support for this proposal. It also said at least 5 other proposals had been tabled, one by South Africa, which was “really good”. Discussions were ongoing, it added. A US press briefing scheduled for 9:30am was postponed.

At its daily 10am press briefing, the Climate action network (CAN) said the US last night remained opposed to the wording that developed countries should cut their emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020, relative to 1990, and global emissions should be halved by 2050, relative to 2000.

It confirmed that negotiations ended around 4am with 4 or 5 proposals on the table. The Indonesian presidency of the UN talks is due to table a new compromise text this morning.

Japan supports the US, Australia’s position is “uncertain” and Canada has remained “silent” said the NGO. Russia has raised concerns, but CAN believes these can be met.

An EU press conference scheduled for noon was curtailed – EU commissioner Stavros Dimas gave a statement but took no questions. Spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said negotiations were “very sensitive” right now.

Mr Dimas said there had been “good progress overnight” on the Bali roadmap. Agreement was reached on deforestation and capacity-building in developing countries. Adaptation and financing issues had also been resolved. This leaves on the table the issue of emission reduction guidelines, said the commissioner.

He welcomed a “text” proposed by the US as a sign of their engagement, but emphasised that the distinction between developed and developing countries is important.

An EU official confirmed the text distributed by Greenpeace was one version of two very similar texts tabled by the US last night.

Political temperature still rising

Despite the good news on technology transfer, the political storm over whether industrialised countries should specify a range for future emission cuts now only intensified as night fell in Bali on Thursday.

Talks were expected to continue until the early hours. At lunchtime, UNFCCC chief Yvo de Boer told journalists he was “very concerned”  about the pace of things.

One thorny issue that has re-emerged is exactly what role the US envisages for its major emitters’ initiative. This brings together the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases to discuss action to combat climate change. The White House has repeatedly insisted it is intended to feed into, not compete with, the UN process, but rumours are resurfacing here that this is not the case.

NGO Climate action network, which gives away three “fossils” every day to countries is believes are being obstructive, awarded them all to the US on Thursday. 

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Some suggested the US had been blocking conclusions on technology transfer because it wanted to save the topic for its next major emitter’s meeting on 30-31 January in Hawaii. How else could the US justify its supposedly difficult behaviour on a text promoting technology, which it claims is central to the fight again climate change?

The fact that a draft text was agreed late on Thursday appears to disprove this theory. Yet tensions persist.

German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel stirred things up by insisting the EU would boycott the major emitters’ process unless there is agreement in Bali that industrialised countries should cut emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020.

Mr Gabriel has been particularly vocal in defence of this goal. Back home, Germany has just launched a – perfectly timed – ambitious national climate strategy with a reduction goal of 40 per cent.

Both the Portuguese EU presidency and EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas appeared to provide full support for Mr Gabriel’s position. Yet out of the limelight, EU delegates are more nuanced. One said they would participate in the major emitters’ meeting “only if there is a Bali roadmap”. “This is not the same as saying if we don’t get the wording we want we won’t take part,” he followed.

One of the issues the US is reportedly arguing is that it would never get the proposed numerical reference through its Senate. Opposition within the Senate blocked ratification of the Kyoto protocol.

As the talks enter their final 24 hours tonight, it’s all becoming very tactical and increasingly dangerous to speculate what’s going on. There may still be surprises. As Indonesia said earlier today, negotiators always keep their cards close to their chest until the very end…

Where things stand

Wednesday morning at 10am the high level segment of the Bali talks kicks off. Over the next three days, ministers from about 155 countries will take over from the more junior officials who have been negotiating so far. This is crunch time.

Between now and Friday night we will find out whether governments will agree to launch negotiations on a post-2012 climate treaty, to finish these by 2009, and to agree a detailed work plan for the next two years.

What can we expect? Whoever you ask will tell you the most significant questions won’t be resolved until the early hours of Saturday morning.

Nonetheless, certain things can be said now. Before I say them, a warning: because this post attempts to provide a full update on where things are at, it’s unusually long. Hopefully the sub-headings will help.

Everyone agrees that negotiations must be launched on a post-2012 climate treaty. For the US, this is an about-turn from its stance only a year ago, when George Bush was still questioning the science behind climate change.

Virtually everyone agrees that negotiations must end by 2009 – China has been the sole exception, advocating a 2010 deadline, but I wonder whether it will stick to its guns in the face of broad consensus. There are more important things for it to spend its bargaining chips on.

The really tricky issue is the work plan. This is the most controversial element of the talks. How much detail should it include and what should it say? Yesterday US chief negotiator Harlan Watson said he favoured something “short, to-the-point, and balanced”.

“We want the essential building blocks [of a post-2012 climate agreement] identified… mitigation, adaptation, technology and financing,” he said, “there has to be a little specification below that level but without prejudging what might come out at the end.”

Reduction ambitions

Any concrete numbers suggesting what emission reductions developed countries should commit to, or what we should try to limit a temperature rise to, could prejudice the final outcome of an agreement, according to Dr Watson. The US has received support from Japan, Australia and Canada.

The EU and UN climate chief Yvo de Boer have consistently maintained these specifics must be included. A draft text that emerged on Saturday said developed countries must commit to cut emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020, relative to 1990 levels, global emissions must peak in the next 10-15 years, and global emissions must be cut by at least half by 2050.

It’s the 25-40 per cent that has attracted most media attention. The latest rumours are that it’s been cut from the draft text, but this could change again. Whatever version officials settle on tonight, it will be passed on to ministers for debate tomorrow. And I can guarantee this is one of those questions they will debate until 4am on Saturday.

Yet I think we can say that even on this seemingly impossible question, consensus may yet be reached. The EU and UNFCCC appear to be making an unprecedented effort to reach out to the US.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas today again set forth his clear support for the commitments detailed above. But other EU sources described the 25-40 per cent as “preferable” rather than “essential”.

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When asked whether he would consider a Bali roadmap without the 25-40 per cent wording a failure, Yvo de Boer said, “No, specific targets you should discuss at the end”. This comes remarkably close to Dr Watson’s position. Mr de Boer emphasised too that the 25-40 figures were intended in any case as “guidance” not “targets”.

There are a million ways in which ministers can phrase the level of ambition in the Bali roadmap they sign off – which they choose will also depend on how other building blocks are written into the plan. For example, perhaps the EU would be prepared to change the wording on ambition in return for more explicit support for the carbon market.

Targets and mitigation are issues that concern primarily the developed world. What about the developing world? We reported earlier this week that emission caps for developing countries seemed about to fall off the table and indeed there has been no further mention of them. Sectoral commitments by industry sector look like the most likely commitment we can expect from developing countries. Details of these too will have to be worked out by ministers.

Adaptation

Adaptation, deforestation, technology, and financing are the main priorities for developing nations. And they scored victories today on the first two. The final structure and operation of an adaptation fund was finally agreed by officials. This is therefore one item ministers will not have to debate but can simply rubber-stamp.

I had wondered how important the set up of the fund was when recent reports have suggested the fundamental problem with adaptation is that rich nations aren’t paying up. Only about 15 per cent of US$1.2bn  (€0.81bn) promised to the developing world by the EU and other states in 2001 has materialised, said UK newspaper the Guardian just before Bali.

All the money in this particular fund however, will come from a two per cent levy on transactions under Kyoto’s Clean development mechanism (CDM), rather than donations. If operational tomorrow, it would contain about US$36m, hardly the US$50bn the World Bank forecasts is needed, but Mr de Boer notes there is a huge CDM pipeline.

Deforestation

On deforestation, World Bank president Robert Zoellick today in Bali launched a new fund to help developing countries reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation. The fund, which is expected to be worth US$300m, will among other things offer countries carbon credits in return for reducing deforestation.

Not everyone applauded the fund. NGO Friends of the Earth said it would not help combat change because it simply offered industrialised countries another way to avoid reducing their own emissions. The US has not decided whether to support it, reports Bloomberg, but it notes President Bush opposes putting a price on carbon.

Negotiators came close to finalising a draft text on deforestation, which begins to set out accounting standards for forestry carbon reduction projects and doubles the size limit for forestry projects that qualify as “small-scale” under the CDM. Such projects face simplified requirements. Mr de Boer said the move would not only expand the geographical scope of the carbon market, but also help countries without strong energy sectors profit more from the CDM.

The only outstanding controversial element in the deforestation text, which will therefore have to be taken up by ministers tomorrow, is how forest conservation fits into the picture.

Technology transfer

On the other two issues of concern to developing countries, technology and financing, the latter is a horizontal issue that cuts across everything from the carbon market to the adaptation fund. Subject to a dedicated international finance ministers’ meeting here in Bali today, I’ll report on that separately.

Technology transfer continues to generate heated discussion and will undoubtedly go to ministers for debate.

One proposal on the table is to monitor technology transfer – as for adaptation, the developing world does not feel it has benefited as it should from this mechanism. Also under consideration is a technology leveraging facility that would help turn a country’s assessment of its technology needs into project proposals that meet the criteria of international financial institutions. The idea is to combine soft loans with much larger commercial investments to bring technologies to new markets.

Other issues

On other issues, UN officials agreed for the first time to consider carbon capture and storage projects for inclusion in the CDM. But they could not agree on how to tackle a potentially perverse incentive to up production of the greenhouse gas HFC-22 to earn carbon credits from reducing its by-product HFC-23. Support for including aviation and maritime emissions in a post-2012 agreement continues to look very iffy.

The aim at these UN meetings has always been to get as much as possible sorted before the ministers arrive so they can devote themselves to the tricky stuff. Despite progress in some areas, there is quite a plateful awaiting them after breakfast tomorrow. The language on and mix of ambition, emission reduction commitments, technology transfer and deforestation will somehow have to please them all.