Nusa Dua, Bali
It’s the second week of the UN Climate Change Conference and the air is heavy with humidity, but despite being the rainy season, it hasn’t rained heavily in weeks. The rooms in the conference facilities where people are clustered around computers feel like saunas, an appropriate thing, I suppose–reminding us not only of where we are, in tropical Bali, but also of why we’re here. The world has a fever, and we’re here to begin to bring the temperature down before it’s too late. The question is, will the 15,000 or so government and nongovernment actors here deliver the goods, or have events been set in motion to make such a breakthrough impossible?
The UN website for the Climate Convention puts an upbeat spin on the meetings here. However, behind the public relations efforts divisions are apparent–not just between North and South, or between the United States and most of the rest of the world, but also between and among NGOs.
When money is on the table, there can be plenty to fight about. And right now there is a hefty wad of cash being dangled before governments and NGOs that comes with a catch: accept carbon trading as the deal or get nothing at all. Even so-called adaptation funding, arguably the largest piece of the pie, if done correctly, is being proffered to cash-poor countries–but only as a percentage of the carbon-trading budget. The message: accept carbon trading or your poor will starve.
Not surprisingly, many governments are jumping on board with this offer. Too many developing countries are still suffering the legacy of indebtedness and poverty to Northern institutions like the World Bank and IMF, staggering debt set in motion by the high oil prices of the 1970s, to have much of a choice in the matter. If it means pledging to protect their forests and treat them as carbon offsets to allow the North to continue to pollute, so be it.
And then there is the issue of bribery. While no one can be certain how much money has infected the political process here, there are indications that agreements that are being structured around Indonesia’s forests involve insider dealing with carbon traders, deals that place millions if not billions of dollars on the table. Surely, once the deals are sealed, there’s enough to share with a few choice decision-makers.
The World Bank’s cocktail party reception for its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility December 11 in Bali was met with organized protests from indigenous peoples and their allies, and chants of “Hands off, World Bank!” The reason: the forests where indigenous peoples make their home are now up for auction as “carbon sinks.” Yet in an age-old pattern of marginalization, no one bothered to consult the indigenous peoples.