Bush team, humiliated by Papua New Guinea (!), blinks in Bali, sort of

London — At least that’s how they’re covering it outside the United States. Similar to how it was reported on British TV last night, The Toronto Star, in an article titled “U.S. backs down after needling” reports the game-changer at the UN climate conference was the remarks of the delegate from Papua New Guinea, Kevin Conrad:

“We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.”

Oh, snap! as Jon Stewart would put it were he not silenced by the writer’s strike. What happened next?

The conference exploded with applause, the U.S. delegation backed down, and the way was cleared yesterday for adoption of the “Bali road map” after a dramatic half-hour that set the stage for a grinding two years of climate talks to come.

Since no hard, near-term targets were agreed to, I’d still call the conference an utter failure, by any reasonable standard, given how urgent the climate problem is. But compared to expectations — and the painful reality of the richest, most polluting nation on the world working full-time to block everyone else from moving forward — it was a partial success. The world will continue to work together to develop a roadmap to a post-Kyoto agreement.


The utter disdain that the rest of the world holds our President, if not clear from the ovation for tiny Papua New Guinea’s smackdown, drips from the lead editorial in today’s The Independent, titled “The world gets the better of Bush,” which drops any pretense of British stiff upper lip:

Last week was the week, and yesterday was the day, when the world finally showed that it was terminally fed up with the simple-minded, short-sighted and self-serving outlook of George Bush. The moment came not, as it well might have done, amid the dust and bloody debris of Iraq or the torture and state terrorism of Guantanamo Bay, but in Indonesia’s lush and lovely Island of the Gods. And, appropriately, it came over climate change — the issue on which the “toxic Texan” first showed that he was going to put his ideological instincts and oil-soaked obstinacy over the interests of the rest of the world and of future generations.

Double snap! The rest of the editorial is worth reprinting, because it puts what Papua New Guinea did in diplomatic context, it has insight into Tony Blair’s failure, and it has implications for our Presidential election:

The mood had been building all week at the negotiations in Bali on a replacement to the present arrangements under the Kyoto Protocol which run out in 2012. For months the United States, and President Bush himself, had been insisting that it would not block progress. Spin-doctors were dispatched to assert, ludicrously, not only that the President was as committed as anyone to avoiding catastrophic global warming, but that the man who had spent years trying to destroy any attempt to tackle it had always really been on the side of the environmental angels. But once his hard-faced negotiators took their seats in the steamy conference centre at the Nusa Dua resort the pretence slipped away. They blocked virtually every constructive proposal put on the table, refusing any suggestion of concrete action by the US, while insisting that other countries do more and more. Ever since Bush first rejected — and set out to kill — the Kyoto Protocol, he had cited as his main objection its exclusion of big developing nations such as China and India. More recently he has indicated that the US would move if they took the first step. Sure enough, they came to Bali ready to take action on their own emissions — and still the US refused to budge.

It is simply not done in international negotiations for one country to single out another for criticism; it’s the equivalent of calling someone a liar in the House of Commons. But from early last week other delegations were publicly, unprecedentedly and explicitly blaming the US for the lack of progress. Worse, they were beginning to point the finger at President Bush himself, suggesting that things would improve once he was gone. That is the kind of humiliation reserved for such international pariahs as Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein. But even they were never subjected to the treatment that America received yesterday morning. When it tried, yet again, to sabotage agreement the representatives of the other 187 governments broke into boos and hisses. When Papua New Guinea told the US to “get out of the way”, they cheered.

The US buckled, as it has always done in international negotiations when it has been isolated. The same thing happened at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, last summer, and two years ago in Montreal, when holding the Bali negotiations was unexpectedly agreed. That is why Tony Blair’s fatal flaw of constantly trying to let President Bush off the hook — while doing so much to raise the profile of climate change internationally — was so destructive. That is also why it is so deeply disturbing that an EU source told The Independent on Sunday that Britain had helped the US water down the Bali agreement after a phone call from the White House to Downing Street. We must hope, as Hilary Benn insists, that this is wrong. The last thing the country wants, or the world needs, is for us to have replaced the poodle with a Pekinese….

The full scale of the White House’s isolation and humiliation, and its consequences for the fading superpower’s standing around the world, needs to be understood by the presidential candidates of both parties.

Cool Britannia!

Global warming is now the defining issue of our times, and it will determinie almost exclusively how future generations judge us.


Why am I in London? Every year or two, I like to spend some time trying to buy stuff with our worthless dollar and apologizing to foreigners for our president — and seeing how lamely our traditional media treat issues like climate compared to the rest of the civilized world. Seriously, though, I am attending a small workshop on clean energy and climate solutions, one of a few I hope to attend over the next few weeks, which I will report back on.