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The Key Bali Issue: Who Should Pay the Carbon Bill?

by Stephen Leahy

on Bali global warming summit

(IPS) -- The family has just finished up an expensive seven-course restaurant meal, and the late-arriving cousins can only snack on bread sticks. When the bill arrives, the truculent, rich uncles -- Canada, Japan and the United States -- insist that the cousins, although poor and still very hungry, ought to pay a full share.

And then Uncle Canada suggests that he pay less because he has a big appetite and can't help himself.

With the fate of the planet in the balance, many critics say that is the current state of the negotiations ongoing in Bali at the international climate change talks. And that is despite an urgent appeal by more than 200 of the world's leading climate scientists late last week.

"Drastic reductions are needed...we have no time to lose," said Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California at a press conference in Nusa Dua, on the island of Bali. Political leaders from virtually every nation will finalise the next steps to a new climate change treaty under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the end of this week.

The scientists are petitioning world leaders to create a new agreement that stems the rise in greenhouse gas emissions in 10 to 15 years and results in at least a 50 percent reduction by 2050. That is the bare minimum reduction, they warn, saying it offers only a 50-50 chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures to two degrees C. and hopefully avoiding dangerous climate change.

Some experts believe 80 percent reductions will be needed, Somerville said.

Despite the urgency and dire warnings, Canada is putting all of its resources at the Bali climate change conference into derailing the process, said Hans Verolme, director of WWF's Global Climate Change Program.

"What they are doing here will get us four degrees C." of global warming, said Verlome at a press conference last Friday. "I don't understand Canadian politics."

Canada and Japan are advocating that all countries emitting large amounts of CO2 now and in the future should cut their emissions equally. That means China and India, which have only recently begun to industrialize, will have the same reduction targets as the U.S., Canada and the rest of the developed world, ignoring the fact they have benefited from 100-plus years of industrialization and dumping CO2 in the atmosphere. Effectively, Canada thinks rich countries should get a free pass on their past emissions.

Since the Industrial Revolution, 450 billion tons of CO2 have been released into the atmosphere, with most of it coming from the wealthiest industrialized countries. Present global emissions are about seven billion tons a year.

"No one is talking about hard targets for developing countries except Canada," Dale Marshall of the David Sukuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental group, told IPS from Nusa Dua.

"They are trying to block the Bali talks," Marshall said.

A Canadian government document leaked to NGOs on Dec. 7 plainly reveals Canada's strategy to demand that poorer nations accept the same binding absolute emission reduction targets as developed nations. The Bush administration has a similar policy and Canada is playing its role in preventing the U.S. from being completely isolated on this, he said.

The document also reveals that Canada wants other countries to recognize that its so-called "national circumstances" entitle it to a weaker target. Those "national circumstances" are apparently the fact that Canada is now a major oil and gas exporter, mostly thanks to its vast oil sands industry, which is the country's largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada's stance also violates the very important principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities," Marshall said. The principle reflects differences on development levels, historical responsibilities and current per capita emissions of various countries. It also represents the consensus of all members of the UNFCCC, including Canada and the United States.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, clearly illustrated what this principle means in order to meet the challenge of a 50 percent reduction target by 2050.

"Developing countries' emissions will be growing dramatically and we have to move to a situation where extra reductions are achieved by industrialized countries in order to create room for growth in developing countries," de Boer said at a press conference late last week.

Despite a declaration last week by Canada's environment minister that a two-degree C. rise in the planet's temperature is "unacceptable," Canada's actions in Bali reveal that its political leadership does not think climate change is a serious issue, Marshall said.

And because the UNFCCC is a consensus process, three or four countries can sabotage the whole effort.

"You want to stand up and shout 'we're negotiating the future of the planet here, not playing political games,'" he said.

Or squabbling over the dinner bill while the restaurant burns.

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Albion Monitor   December 11, 2007   (

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