Bali: thinktank or hot air? – Sunday Business Post

The Bali talks aim to draft a proposal before Kyoto ends, but critics say nothing will be achieved, writes Simon Roughneen.

Demonstrator at UN Bali climate conf (Reuters)

Demonstrator at UN Bali climate conf (Reuters)

Apparently oblivious to the irony, around 20,000 delegates descended on the idyllic Indonesian resort of Bali last week for two weeks of talks about a replacement regime for the Kyoto Protocol.

Between December 3 and 14, the aircraft bringing throngs of bureaucrats, politicians, NGOs, journalists and activists will stamp the same carbon footprint as Chad does in an entire year.

Meanwhile, Anglican church bells around Ireland were to ring out at 2pm yesterday, to mark the global day of action on climate change and urge local politicians to do more about it.

But despite the best efforts of the Church of Ireland, no new deal will come from Bali. The talkfest aims merely to lay the bedrock for an agreement sometime before 2012, when Kyoto lapses.

A multitude of working groups, seminars and backroom chats in five-star hotels will deliberate the technical minutiae of policies that western countries must implement if the required cutbacks in consumption and economic activity are to be implemented.

However, it remains unlikely that the world’s biggest carbon emitter, the US, will sign any new blueprint for now. China and India, two of the five largest sources for carbon dioxide emissions, will not have to act because – as developing countries – they are not being held responsible for the current level of greenhouse gases, so should not be bound by the perceived need to cut back.

Since the new Australian Labor government signed up to Kyoto, the US remains alone among industrialised countries in refusing to ink the almost defunct protocol.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report just weeks before the Bali conference ‘‘made clear beyond doubt that climate change is a reality’’, and that it poses a serious threat to the future development of the world’s economies, societies and ecosystems. The IPCC said that, if no action was taken on greenhouse gases, the earth’s temperature could rise by 4.5 degrees.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, and adverse effects on human activities are documented, according to the report.

But Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusets Institute of Technology (MIT), said he did not think that the Bali conference could achieve anything. Lindzen has said there is no scientific consensus on climate change, or whether human activity is the main cause of what used to be called global warming.

Other scientists and academics have pointed out that fluctuations in global temperatures correlate more consistently with patterns of radiation from the sun than with any rise in CO2 levels, and that, after a century of high solar activity, the sun’s effect is now weakening, presaging a likely drop in temperatures.

In a paper Taking Greenhouse Warming Seriously, produced for the academic journal Energy and Environment, Linzer wrote that ‘‘serious and persistent doubts remain concerning the danger of anthropogenic global warming, despite persistent claims that ‘the science is settled’”.

Linzer told The Sunday Business Post: ‘‘Only about a third of present warming is greenhouse-driven, and the amount of warming seen thus far is much less than models imply that we should have seen.

‘‘Under the circumstances, there is little warming to be reduced, no matter what one does about carbon emissions.”

D r Timothy Ball, environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg, told this newspaper: ‘‘CO2 is less than 4 per cent of the greenhouse gases, and the human portion only 4 per cent of that. A multitude of other major causes of climate and climate change are ignored in the computer models of the IPCC.”

Ball claimed that the IPCC was politically-driven, describing its members as ‘‘government appointees working to hidden agendas’’.

But it appears that political efforts to analyse climate change do not take sufficient note of naturally-occurring factors.

Linzer has pointed out that the IPCC ‘‘glosses over the historical evidence that Europe was far warmer in the Middle Ages than it is today, or that the 17th century was much colder with the little Ice Age leaving the Thames frozen over for months at a time’’.

Earlier this year, the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies revised its record of US surface temperatures, which originally showed that the past decade featured the hottest years on record. The graph now shows that the hottest year of the 20th century was, not 1998, but 1934, and that four of the ten warmest years in the past century were in the 1930s.

But the Bali conference is not all talk. To offset the adverse effect of the flights in and out of Bali’s Denpasar Airport, 4.5 million trees will be planted across Indonesia, locking up some 900,000 tons of carbon annually.

It remains to be seen, however, if the tree-planting will be enough to counter the hot air coming out of Bali’s conference rooms between now and Friday.

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