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'Road map' with no destination

Environment secretary Hilary Benn and other ministers gathered at the Bali climate talks fell over themselves in the rush to declare the conference a resounding success. The reality is somewhat different. All that was agreed at Bali was to hold talks about more talks with the hope that one day there will be a firm agreement to cut carbon emissions. As one campaigner put it, the “road map” sketched out in Bali actually lacks a destination. And, as any walker knows, a map without a destination point is actually worse than useless.

A deal was struck in Bali on the basis that the agreement was left vague. There was an air of desperation of 11 days of fruitless talks. Plans to work towards binding cuts in carbon emissions were abandoned in favour of a statement which talked about the need to make “deep cuts” without saying how these might be achieved. Just in case anyone was under the illusion that the United States had shifted its ground, yesterday American officials were pouring cold water on Bali. Washington said that the US had "serious concerns" about future talks geared at setting emission targets.

Nelson Muffuh, a senior climate change policy analyst with Christian Aid, said: "The US delegation in particular proved a major obstacle to progress. They appeared to operate a wrecking policy, as though determined to derail the whole process. We were expecting a road map, and we've got one. But it lacks signposts and there is no agreed destination." While Benn hailed the agreement as an "historic breakthrough", Andy Atkins, the advocacy director of Tearfund, the relief charity, said: "The fact that there is no agreement about how far to cut emissions means the Bali road map is missing a vital signpost. An ambitious, science-based target will have to be agreed by 2009 if the new agreement is not to be fatally flawed." Keith Allott, the head of climate change at WWF UK, said: "We are not at all pleased. We were looking for a road map with a destination."

The harsh reality is that climate change is advancing at a swift pace and the world’s major powers are incapable of doing anything about it. The political elites are beholden to corporate interests and the mantras of the market economy to such an extent that paralysis is the order of the day. Cutting carbon emissions at the rate required to halt global warming could only be achieved through a massive disruption to the status quo of production for profit. It would mean abandoning the drive to produce more and more commodities for the market and a total restructuring of economic activity. Whole new approaches to work and transport would be needed to minimise private car use. Local combined heat and power systems would replace centralised power plants. Can you see this happening under New Labour? Of course not! While global temperatures continue to rise, bringing sea level changes and extreme weather conditions, Benn and his fellow ministers will be wasting more time on fruitless post-Bali meetings. The future of the planet cannot be left in their hands.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
17 December 2007

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