The Americans have finally started to feel the heat, said Damien Roustel in France’s L’Humanité. At the global conference on climate change in Bali recently, the U.S. made an “astonishing about-face.” After two weeks of stonewalling the negotiations, refusing to commit to any cuts in greenhouse gases unless they applied equally to developed and developing countries, the U.S. delegation ultimately agreed to a compromise. The U.S. still refuses to include a binding commitment to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent. But it did agree to commit to unspecified “deep cuts” in emissions. More important, it will give technological and financial aid to developing countries to help them “grow green.”
It took the pressure of the entire world to puncture America’s intransigence, said Caroline De Malet in France’s Le Figaro. Speech after speech by delegates from developing nations lambasted the U.S. for its selfishness in demanding that China and India make concessions before the U.S.—the world’s biggest polluter—would even consider making any. Some speeches were downright shaming, as when the Papua New Guinea delegate shouted, “If you don’t want to take the lead, at least don’t get in our way!” The turning point came when the U.S. delegate, Paula Dobriansky, took the floor to the boos of the world community. It then became obvious that the U.S. “would be held responsible for the failure of the summit” unless it made some real concessions. Shortly thereafter, Dobriansky did just that.
Still, this isn’t much of a milestone, said Jonathan Leake in Britain’s Sunday Times. The Bali agreement has been hailed as historic “mainly because America signed up to it.” But America can still scuttle it. The original draft of the Kyoto accord, for example, mandated deep cuts in six greenhouse gases, but the final version, adopted after years of negotiations, mandated smaller cuts, in only three gases—and even those targets went unmet. This time around, we’re starting with a draft accord that is pretty much toothless, and it will probably get weaker, not tougher, over the next two years.
There’s still hope, said Konrad Mrusek in Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. There will be a new U.S. president before the final accord is signed in Copenhagen in 2009. “If a Democrat wins the presidency, the accord could well be renegotiated.” And even if we get another Republican in the White House, the political climate has definitively shifted. Even President Bush has realized that America cannot remain isolated from the rest of the world on the most important challenge facing the planet.
Don’t be so sure, said John Vidal in Britain’s Guardian. The U.S. has already begun backtracking. Bush’s press secretary, Dana Perino, said the U.S. still has “serious concerns” that will have to be addressed during the negotiations over the next two years. She pointed out that while the U.S. emits more gases per capita than China, that’s only because of the much smaller American population; in total tons of emissions, the two countries are nearly the same. And the Democrats aren’t so different from the Republicans, said George Monbiot, also in the Guardian. Both American parties are beholden to the corporate interests that have a stake in the polluted status quo. In the last decade, coal, oil, gas, logging, and agribusiness have given $418 million to federal politicians in the U.S., while automobile companies have given $355 million. Yes, “the big polluters favor the Republicans, but most of them also fund Democrats.”