By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Published: December 16, 2007
On the surface, the accomplishment of the two-week UN climate conference that concluded this weekend in Bali seems meager: Thousands of delegates representing nearly 200 nations agreed to talk more, laying out a "road map" for negotiations that will in theory produce a climate treaty by 2009.
Even this baby step required sleepless, volatile negotiations that continued to the last hours of the conference, with the U.S. delegation refusing to go along, until its lead negotiator was literally booed and jeered.
"If for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us," Kevin Conrad, the negotiator from Papua New Guinea, told the U.S. delegation on Saturday afternoon. "Please, get out of the way." Minutes later, the Americans agreed.
Recognizing that "deep cuts in emission" will be required to avert climate catastrophe, the resulting Bali Action Plan requires both developed and developing nations to do their share in limiting greenhouse gases and asks the world to support poor countries in coping with climate change.
If no one is exactly celebrating the accomplishment of Bali, many are at least satisfied.
"My starting point is a sigh of relief that we're on the right track - the fact that there is a Bali action plan is an important development," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.
"In the broad scheme of things, the world has taken a step forward, and now there's a much better chance of an agreement."
Among climate scientists, the expectations for this massive exercise in international diplomacy were extraordinarily low.