US in Bali: Lots of talk, little substance

Today at the US press conference, James Connaughton, Paula Dobriansky, and Harlan Watson had much to say about what the US wants to come out of Bali and what they are already doing at home to address climate change. They claimed that “we already have prices on carbon” because of the high price of coal, oil, and natural gas. They even claimed we have a price on carbon because of the automobile fuel efficiency standards that Congress is considering and the tens of billions of dollars it will cost to upgrade the US automobile fleet. Goals of reducing greenhouse gas intensity were trotted out as more evidence that the US is a leader on addressing climate change.

Underlying this claim of action and leadership was the reality that the US doesn’t even want emissions reductions targets in the guidelines for the Bali road map, the chief agreement that everyone hopes will come out of this conference. They worry that including emissions reduction guidelines will “predetermine outcomes” of the negotiations that will take place as part of the road map. These targets are not binding, but are simply a recognition that the IPCC has recommended these emissions reductions to keep warming below 2 degrees C. The US delegation claimed that more information needs to be collected and considered, such as the economic and technological feasibility of these targets and their effect on sustainable development goals. The difficulty of sustainably developing a submerged island nation must have been lost on them.

While many are optimistic that a road map for negotiations will come out of the conference, and some agreements on issues like an adaptation fund have been reached, discussion of the most difficult issues will be postponed. As was mentioned yesterday during a panel on climate change and human development, Bali has become an opportunity to keep open the window of opportunity, but unfortunately it appears that little else will come out of it.

Scott