Winning the battle in Bali, and then winning the war
Since COP13 / MOP3 — hereafter “Bali” — has begun, I thought I’d send a brief note on expectations and strategy. Brief because there’s too much to say, so I shouldn’t try. Besides, I’ll try to post again in a few days.
Here’s the thing: Bali is freighted with terrific expectations, which are entirely appropriate given the state of the science. We now “know,” insofar as we can know these things, that we’ve got to do everything to hold total temperature increase from global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and that to have a good chance of doing so global emissions are going to peak by 2015.
In other words, we now know this is an emergency situation. So why would we demand anything except emergency action? No reason at all. Which is why EcoEquity signed the “Call for Climate Talks to Accelerate Global Economic and Energy Transitions: What Bali Must Achieve” (PDF), now being circulated by the Institute for Policy Studies and the International Forum on Globalization.
The Call urges negotiators to pursue three paths:
• Deeper Emissions Cuts, With Equity: The Call supports the goal of creating deeper binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum average of at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, while ensuring that richer nations, and the richer segments within all nations, bear the greatest burden of adjustment.
• Profound Economic and Energy Transitions: Governments need to create new rules, incentives, and institutions to shift our villages, cities, countries, and world toward socially just and ecologically sound economies.
• New Global Institutions: Governments should create new global mechanisms that help nations keep fossil fuels in the ground, finance North-South resource transfers, cut back oil production and consumption, advance rights to clean water, and protect forests, fisheries, biodiversity, fragile ecosystems, and endangered species.
And really (he said rhetorically), who could disagree?
But it’s one thing to demand something, and another to expect it. Alas, the policy shifts that might make such an agenda possible aren’t yet on the table. Moreover, everyone — the negotiators, the over 430 NGOs massed together under the international umbrella of the Climate Action Network, and just about everyone else who’s following the insider baseball here — knows it.
In fact, it’s even worse than that. The awful truth is that the global economic accommodations that would make a 2015 emissions peak possible still can’t be put onto the official negotiating agenda without risking a major North-South confrontation and a counterproductive negotiative deadlock.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot is on the agenda. Everything — even the sorts of maximalist demands that the Bali Call enumerates — is moving toward it. But first we have to cross a tipping point, and we’re still not there.
Maybe it makes sense to talk about the difference between tactics and strategy. The Climate Action Network functions, when it’s at its best (and let’s hope that it is in Bali), as a sort of hive-mind tactical genius. But even CAN, which can quite fairly claim to have saved the negotiations more than once, is condemned for the moment to mere tactics. It says what no one else will say, as often and as effectively as it can (follow its coverage of Bali here) but it can’t force a break-through. And it’s not even crazy for its more staid activists to worry, as they do, that too frank an embrace of the big issues (as in the IPS/IFG call) may actually reduce their trench-warfare effectiveness.
We don’t want that.
The real issue is that, on the one hand, the global “emergency program” we need to deliver a 2015 global emissions peak isn’t going to be built from incremental changes to the Kyoto architecture now being envisaged as the “successful” outcome of post-2012 negotiations. On the other hand, the kind of policy “big bang” that might deliver a 2015 emissions peak is not yet possible. Given this, the NGOs must, whatever else they do, continue to support and advocate the incremental strengthening and improvement of Kyoto and its institutions. They simply have no choice.
It’s actually a demoralizing situation. Or it would be, if it were an either/or choice, but it’s not. This is the key to understanding Bali. On one hand, we have to slog on as best we can, one step at at time. On the other, we have to lift our eyes from the tactical scrum and look ahead, from the week’s battles to the year’s and the decade’s.
The situation is in rapid flux. If the negotiators and their NGO allies are trapped for the moment in the knots of tactical realism, the same cannot be said of the larger (and rapidly growing) climate movement, the one outside the conference halls. If this movement gets strong enough, everything changes.
Peering forward into the fog, the question is how to prepare for the political and institutional transition that’s so clearly necessary, and to do so while at the same time winning the ground war. So please, the fight in Bali — a fight to lay down a negotiating timeline that will lead to a meaningful successor agreement to Kyoto — is not a “surreal waste of time,” as I heard it called just this morning. Keep your eye, instead, on the ball — the successor agreement.
The great thing about these negotiations — and why they’re tolerable, at the emotional level — is that even though the logic of the short-term dominates, the medium- and long-term solutions are hanging in the air. The unfortunate thing is that’s exactly where they’re going to stay until the “global burden sharing” problem is addressed in an honest way. The negotiators, alas, are not yet ready to do so.
Things are changing, though. The elephant in the room is now too large to ignore. Its fellows are wandering the halls. Outside the conferences in the larger political world, the world of people and communities, the shift is picking up speed. People want to know that there are ways forward, even if they’re not yet “realistic.”
Anyway, this is a fraught, disjointed moment that puts us in the odd position of having to push for short-term advances we know are inadequate, and to appear happy as we win — if we win — even small, short-term battles. Not a situation you want to suffer for too long.
Fortunately, the big ask, the one that closes the loops and actually lays out policies adequate to the situation, is going to be on the table soon. Not in Bali, though — not yet.
But it had best be soon.