Friday, December 14, 2007

Is It All Just Hot Air?

Kevin Rudd is certainly a good talker, and when it comes to climate change he’s had plenty to say. Having successfully made it an election issue, the new Prime Minister wasted no time signing the papers to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. His first journey overseas as Prime Minister has been to attend the climate conference in Bali, where the speech he delivered attracted much praise. He has pointed to the need for the United States to change its position. But is it all talk?

The Kyoto Protocol has almost run its course, so signing up now is a powerful symbolic gesture, but in practical terms doesn’t really do much. The whole point of the Bali conference is to determine a framework for a post-Kyoto plan to come into effect in 2012. Bali is supposed to provide the so-called roadmap for the next two years of negotiations. At issue is a deep division between Europe and the United States over whether or not to include a commitment to a specific range of emissions cuts from 25 to 40% by 2020.

The United States argues that such a commitment now undermines future negotiations, and so far it seems that Kevin Rudd has fallen into line and accepted this argument, refusing to support the inclusion of the targets in the Bali Declaration. Many people are now questioning whether this represents a failure of the Prime Minister to “walk the walk” on climate change.

Too much has been invested in the Bali talks for them to be allowed to result in total failure. That won’t happen. But the roadmap that is issued may be for a road to nowhere if goalposts are not clearly set by the declaration.

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