While a few observers clung to a sliver of hope that Al Gore’s arrival in Bali today might lead to a last-minute breakthrough in U.N. climate talks there, the Associated Press reported that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, after opening the final segment of the two-week conference Wednesday, “told reporters he believed suggesting specific emissions guidelines in the ‘Bali roadmap’ for future talks may prove ‘too ambitious.'” The reason: adamant U.S. opposition to any such targets for industrialized countries.
Participants were talking instead about reaching a “least-common-denominator outcome by week’s end: a vague plan to negotiate by 2009 a new deal on emissions cutbacks, replacing the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012,” the AP said — adding that German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel responded, “How can we have a roadmap without having a target, without having a goal?”
Gabriel’s question was on a lot of minds as minister-level representatives from several nations took aim at the United States’ position, but they could do little but vent. London’s Times Online reported that many participants, including Ban Ki-moon and Britain’s environment secretary, Hilary Benn, thought “the most important thing was to make sure that the U.S. remained part of the negotiating process — even if that meant compromising the content of the final document.”
The United States needs to remain because no one wants the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter to snub a Kyoto Protocol replacement as it did the Kyoto accord itself. Therefore the bottom line is that negotiators “would not embrace any overall binding goals for cutting global greenhouse gas emissions before President Bush leaves office, essentially putting off specific U.S. commitments until a new administration assumes power in 2009,” the Washington Post reported. Since the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, waiting that long would leave a very short time frame for negotiating its replacement. Yet it’s the best hope they have for setting meaningful goals.
Interestingly, on the same day the United States was backing down negotiators in Bali, a court ruling back home highlighted California’s similar holding pattern. A federal judge ruled Wednesday against automakers who’d challenged the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction law. The ruling disagreed “with the auto industry’s claim that the state’s curb on greenhouse gas emissions amounted to a forbidden intrusion on federal regulation of gas mileage,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
California is therefore free to enforce its law, as long as it gets a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which has delayed a decision so long that the state has sued it. That leaves the Bush administration, California Attorney General Jerry Brown said, “as the last remaining roadblock to California’s regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.” And so California, too, waits.
Susan Albright, a former editor of the Star Tribune’s editorial pages, writes about national and foreign developments.