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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bali Memories

Air Date: Week of

A billboard announcing the UN conference is a back-drop to the morning commute. (Photo: Steve Curwood)

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood reflects on his trip to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali and finds the U.S. behaved somewhat like an unruly guest at a holiday party.


CURWOOD: Shortly before the holiday season, I folded myself into a succession of airplanes to come home from the UN climate change negotiations in Bali. And I found myself wondering what exactly had been accomplished there.

To be sure, there were breakthrough commitments to pay to preserve tropical rainforests, and to involve the less developed countries. Still, when one of the youngsters in my house asked if the conference means the world is now doing enough to fight global warming, I had to answer ‘no.’

So was Bali all a waste of time? A lot of bali-hoo about nothing? ‘No,’ I said, because all those plenaries, press conferences and pageants were pretty much like the parade of holiday parties going on back home. Aside from party planners, nobody does much of anything at a holiday schmooze, or over the entire holiday season for that matter, except, perhaps to eat and drink more than is wise.

Japanese Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita cuts the 10th anniversary cake of the Kyoto Protocol.(Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

But the joy of the holidays is that we stop business as usual to get together to reaffirm our commitments to each other. We stop to say ‘this is our family, our work group, our little world that really matters and makes life worth living.’

And of course the message is just the opposite when we don’t attend the gatherings, or even worse, show up, drink too much and start handing out insults. And so it was in Bali at the UN climate conference.

The entire world, or at least 180 or so nations, held a gathering to reaffirm a commitment to fight destructive climate change. In many respects, it was the fanciest—or at least highest-ranking—climate gathering yet.

The U.S. sent two cabinet level officers—a marked step up from the minor bureaucrats who’ve represented us since then Vice President Al Gore went to Kyoto in 1997. The trouble is, the U.S. has since rejected Kyoto and has failed to put anything better in its place.

But for all the higher profile of the U.S. team, it was labeled obstructionist by many—including Nobel laureate Al Gore. And when White House environmental boss James Connaughton whined that the U.S. was prepared to lead but the world had to follow, it was somewhat akin to a bibulous guest knocking over the punch bowl.

Five months after a pioneering world tour from Switzerland to Bali, a solar powered taxi has arrived at the UN Climate Change Conference. (Courtesy of Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB))

Still, rather than getting tossed out by the scruff of the neck, the U.S. was more or less gracefully bundled into a cab with a document that commits the world to fighting climate change, even if it is a bit vague on the numbers.

It reminded me of George Bush’s declaration a couple of years ago that we are addicted to oil. Now to kick the habit, you need good friends to get you into rehab. So yes, something did happen in Bali. Our friends and neighbors refused to be cowed for a change, and called us on our denial. And that is real progress.



United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change- Bali, 3 - 14 December 2007


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