Indonesia is plagued by flooding, but today marks the official start of a different sort of flood – one of politicians, non-profit reps, and activists gathering by the thousands (15,000-20,000) as part of the thirteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting.
Discussions will take place for the next two weeks, but the most important meetings tend to happen the second week. In this case, that will be day and night the week of December 10-15. And it’s not quite safe to say that negotiations will occur, as this meeting is so preliminary to negotiations that its top formal objective is merely to set a timeline.
However, the purpose of the meeting for non-governmental attendees is much more substantive. This is the first in a series to discuss the post-Kyoto arrangement, to go into force 2013. Expectations are high, although few doubt any meaningful agreements will result.
Indeed, the pressure has been growing for weeks. First, with the joint award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Then with the fourth synthesis report from the IPCC, capping a year of IPCC releases on the science, vulnerability and solutions to global warming. And finally, with Australia’s immediate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by its new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
That leaves the United States as a solitary, initial obstacle. I say initial because were the U.S. to ratify Kyoto, there remains the question of India and China’s reduction commitments, which, as is, the treaty does not promise.
A few of the central concerns for participants will be: US participation in the treaty in the next stage of policy (2013/post-Kyoto), the role of China, India and other developing countries, reflection on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the global carbon market, and essentially how to address the delicacies of each situation while making the emission cuts the science demands.
In terms of the carbon market and how to form the role of developing countries in the future model, the issue of deforestation is likely to rise amidst the scant policy talks. Several countries with lots of forests – such as the host, Indonesia – intend on raising deforestation as a candidate for entry into the carbon markets, allowing developed countries to buy offsets by paying forested countries not to deforest. As a reporter on NPR this morning explained, as controversial as it is to pay for someone to not do something, there are so many other major points to debate that their deforestation proposal may meet few objections.
As for US participation, we’re certainly not getting any sign of change in Washington. The one bright spot for this round of UNFCCC meetings is that in addition to its usual representative, the U.S. is also sending James Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality. He is the highest ranking official that Bush’s Administration has sent to international climate negotiations.
Additionally, Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer plan on making an appearance. And if she has things her way, Sen. Boxer will board her plane to Bali immediately after passing America’s Climate Security Act (a.k.a the Lieberman-Warner bill) through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, granting her bragging rights.
A world away, keep your eyes on who attends and what they say. Even though no conclusions are expected, the dynamic should be foretelling.