A cynic would say they're flying to Bali for a vacation where they can talk about doing some talking later on, but the United Nations meeting in Bali this week is important. This meeting will bring together a huge gathering of diplomats who will discuss how the world will tackle global warming when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. So, yes, it's just talking about future talks. And, yes, it is important.
The United States will have a showdown over its views about voluntary, market-based strategies to tackling global warming, which are at odds with virtually the entire world. Most nations are advocating for binding cuts in emissions.
The role of developing countries, particularly fast-growing China and India, will be tested. The U.S. has made full participation of the world's leading polluters, whether industrializing or industrialized, a key condition of its participation. Developing nations, meanwhile, see the greatest responsibility falling on the developed nations that have been polluting the atmosphere for more than a century.
A mechanism for sharing technology will be discussed. Many have set a goal of having rich nations share clean energy technology with poor nations, but the details about how it might work are undetermined.
A mechanism for protecting forests will be a priority for many delegates. Even though clearing forests is responsible for as much as a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol didn't create an effective way to promote forest preservation and reforestation. Bali will be a test to see what progress can be made toward finding an effective solution.
A goal will be discussed for world emissions. Some have suggested that the world needs to cut emissions by 50-80% below 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid a two-degree rise in temperature, and catastrophic changes that will accompany that rise. The Kyoto Protocol required a 5% reduction below 1990 levels by 2012, but many countries are failing to make enough progress to meet even that goal.
The debate about how much time, energy and money the world should spend trying to avoid global warming versus how much it should spend preparing for the changes that will come from global warming is a key point of interest. Already, the earth has measurably warmed, and increased warming is inevitable even if all emissions stopped today.
None of these issues will be resolved this week. But this meeting will lay the groundwork for the discussion on these critical issues for the next year or two. For that reason, Bali matters. And, as Thomas Friedman recently wrote in the New York Times about a wholly different intractable problem, Middle East peace, the true measure of leadership is the degree to which it surprises us.
In that way, the importance of Bali could be measured by the items not on this list.
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