Memo from Bali: SustainUS trip to UN Climate Negotiations

The following is a guest post from Erin Kenzie, who is attending the climate talks in Bali as the chairperson of SustainUS, a youth organization dedicated to fighting climate change. Carbon offsets to balance the delegates’ travel were donated by TerraPass. You can learn more about SustainUS’ work at itsgettinghotinhere.org and at youtube.com/sustainus.

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Yesterday was the first day of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali. More specifically, it was the first day of the thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the third Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP/MOP 3), the twenty-seventh sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 27) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 27), and last but not least, the resumed fourth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG 4).

Yet for such an official and confusing title, the experience of being at Bali Conference is one that swings between the ridiculously complex to the almost freewheeling.

On the one hand you have the negotiations, which you have to do a year’s worth of background reading just to understand. To unfamiliar ears, the negotiations may as well be in a different language. On the other hand, you end up riding the free bikes in your formal attire to get between the conference centers. After arriving late to our first two events, we discovered that walking was not a practical solution. Nor was it pleasurable in the heat.

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There are intense arguments over abstruse policy specific, followed by dancing to the “It’s Getting Hot in Here” song. There was the dramatic and celebrated shift in Australia’s stance toward the Kyoto Protocol, followed by the “Fossil of the Day Awards” which “honored” the U.S. with great pageantry and a ceremonious bag of coal for being the only industrialized nation to reject the treaty.

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The dichotomy is indicative of the whole climate change debate. On one hand, climate change is one of most serious challenges humankind faces. On the other, nations still try to dance absurdly around the issue and fail to make the changes that are required to protect our future. Today, among other things, Saudi Arabia called for compensation for any potential loss in revenue from decreased demand for oil, and Canada stated that developing countries should be subject to the exact same standards as industrialized countries, totally ignoring the principle of shared but differentiated responsibility. I share the high hopes of many at this conference, but if a Bali breakthrough is to be achieved, it is time to leave the absurdity to the side events and gimmicks rather than the actions of the negotiating delegates.

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