A British Baptist leader welcomed political consensus forged at last month’s Union Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, but lamented objections by the United States to set targets for reducing greenhouse emissions that nearly derailed the proceedings.
A total of 187 countries that met Dec. 3-14 in Bali agreed to negotiate toward an international climate-change deal within two years to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2013. Kyoto, which binds 36 developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels, was crippled when the United States, the world’s largest carbon emitter, declined to ratify the treaty.
The “Bali Roadmap” outlined an agenda for negotiators to find ways to reduce pollution and help poor countries adapt to climate change. The treaty nearly broke down, however, when the U.S. refused to accept language that limiting the increase in average global temperature to less than two degrees Celsius will require emission cuts of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels.
“The decisions we have taken in Bali together create the world’s road map to a secure climate future,” Rachmat Witoelar, president of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, said in remarks to the closing plenary session. “The governments assembled here have responded decisively in the face of new scientific evidence and significant advances in our thinking to collectively envision, and chart, a new climate-secure course for humanity.”
While relieved that any deal could be salvaged, Graham Sparkes, head of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s faith and unity department, called the reluctance to set clear goals against global warming “lamentable.”
“Developed nations have a particular responsibility to take urgent action to reduce the impact of global warming on poorer, developing countries, so we welcome the progress made on managing and financing a fund to help countries adapt to climate change,” Sparkes said in The Baptist Times.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain is working with Methodist and United Reformed denominations on a joint response to the British government’s upcoming climate change bill and produced a joint briefing paper on the bill for church members.
Other Christian organizations shared Sparkes’ disappointment. Christian Aid said it was “dismayed” that target figures for reducing emissions were removed from the final agreement. Tearfund described the agreement as “a road map missing a vital signpost.”
One of the meeting’s headline speakers was also a Baptist. Addressing the gathering the day after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, former Vice President Al Gore urged other nations not to wait on the United States to step up to the plate.
“I speak to you as an American, as a citizen of the United States,” Gore said. “I am not an official of the United States, and I am not bound by the diplomatic niceties, so I am going to speak an inconvenient truth. My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali.”
Gore said other nations have two choices about how to respond to America’s refusal to adopt targets to cut greenhouse emissions. “You can feel anger and frustration and direct it at the United States of America, or you can make a second choice,” he said. “You can decide to move forward and do all of the difficult work that needs to be done.”
Gore said targets must be a part of the treaty that is adopted two years from now in Copenhagen, but he expressed hope the U.S. will be on board by then. He predicted next year’s national elections will produce a president more friendly to the environment.
“We are seeing the early stages of the first global, people-power movement,” he said. “There will be a mass movement worldwide.”
Gore said time is running out to reduce global warming.
“We, the human species, face a planetary emergency,” he said. “That phrase still sounds shrill to some ears, but it is deadly accurate as a description of the situation that we now confront.”
Gore said it is “up to us in this generation to see clearly and vividly exactly what is going on.”
“Twenty of the 21 hottest years ever measured in the atmospheric record have come in the last 25 years, the hottest of all in 2005,” he said. “This year is on track to be the second hottest of all. This is not natural variation. It is far beyond the boundaries of natural variation, and the scientists have told us so, over and over again, with increasing alarm.”
Despite that, Gore said, “We are still imprisoned in an illusion that nothing is wrong, that we don’t have to do anything, that it will affect others and not us, that we can continue as before without change.”
“This is not a political issue,” Gore said. “It is not a diplomatic issue. It is a moral issue.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Baptist of the Year: Al Gore
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.