Outlook on Bali and American Involvement

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing yesterday on the upcoming climate negotiations in Bali. While many have noted that the prevailing idea seems to be that the world is in a holding pattern for the next U.S. President to see how the post-Kyoto agreement will shake out, we shouldn’t give up hope that there can be significant forward movement in the short term, at least according to two former climate negotiators who testified.The post-Kyoto framework will be divided into four broad efforts — mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology. While pushing for substantive change on mitigation and finance might not be this Administration’s cup of tea, Jonathan Pershing, director of the Climate, Energy, and Pollution Program at the World Resources Institute, and Tim Wirth, a former Senator and U.S. climate negotiator, found hope in Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky’s testimony (video) on the other two fronts. Pershing sees hope here:

Adaptation is an increasing priority both at home and internationally, and we are promoting effective planning as part of broader development strategies. The United States is leading efforts such as the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which gives communities early warning of natural disasters, and improves decision-making for agriculture, coastal development and other economic sectors that are affected by climate variability and change.

And Wirth notes this as positive:

And, to accelerate the uptake of clean energy technologies around the world, President Bush has proposed a new international clean technology fund. Secretary Paulson is working with international partners in developing a new approach for spurring investments in the global energy infrastructure that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Only time will tell whether these initial actions will grow into worthwhile efforts.

In the meantime, as Senator Wirth noted, the Senate has a responsibility to help maintain proper expectations on the Bali negotiations. The final post-2012 agreement will be the most complex and, arguably, most important ever forged, and the process, in order to work, must be appropriately long and thorough. Senator Wirth stressed that Bali is a meeting “not of substance but process,” in that it sets up the next meeting, which eventually leads to the final agreement. The Secretary General’s High-Level Event in September served a similar purpose. Matt Yglesias explains the process well.