Some time in the future, we may look back at this week's meeting in Bali, Indonesia as being a critically fateful time in the world's fight against global warming. Representatives from some 180 nations are gathering in Bali to discuss ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This could, and should, mark the beginning of a serious effort to deal with the man-made causes of climate change.
A lot of attention will be on the United States at this conference, which begins today and will continue through Dec. 14. The Bush administration has been adamant in opposing mandatory commitments for greenhouse gas emission reductions unless the actions do not severely harm the economy. The administration has consistently rejected calls for international mandates to reduce greenhouse-gas reductions. President Bush favors voluntary efforts instead, which is a prescription for doing nothing. But much of the rest of the world has come around to the need for more forceful action.
The United States is sending a delegation to the conference headed by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky. Another member of the U.S. delegation will be James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Connaughton said the goal is for the Bali conference to lead to further talks in 2009 on more specific actions to be taken. "We don't expect a decision on those (actions) in Bali," said Connaughton. Skeptics of the administration's seriousness in dealing with global warming might point to the fact that Connaughton previously was a lobbyist for the nation's electric power companies, coal-mining interests and other major industrial polluters.
Much of the world will be watching to see what role the United States will play. There is an unprecedented awareness among the public and leaders now," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the panel that shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for its work on global warming. "My information is that some of the delegations who have been obstructionist in the past (meaning the United States) will be much more cooperative this time."
William Antholis and Todd Stern of the Center for American Progress in The Washington Quarterly write that it is inconceivable that the world won't begin to act. "The risks inherent in failing to act decisively are simply too great. As many as 1 to 2 billion people will face increased water scarcity; thawing permafrost will destabilize building foundations and other structures; declining crop yields will lead to increased hunger in the dry tropics, including vast regions of Africa; and 2030 percent of global plant and animal life will face extinction."
Another report by the United Nations warned that -- floods, droughts and other climate disasters will rob millions of children of the decent meals and schools they need unless rich nations provide $86 billion by 2015 to help the poor adapt to global warming. . . . Without the money, a warmer world could stall and then reverse human development in the countries where 2.6 billion people live on $2 a day or less.
Kevin Watkins, a senior research fellow at Britain's Oxford University, also warned that the message for Bali "is that the world cannot afford to wait. It has less than a decade to change course. I defy anybody to speak to the victims of droughts and floods, like we did, and challenge our conclusions on the long-term impact of climate disasters."
The message has become louder and more incessantly clear: If there is any hope of reducing the effects of global warming, if there is any hope of reversing the long-term, terrible effects of climate change, now is the time to act.
The growing public awareness of the problem should push the world's governments to act in realistic ways to combat global warming. There are no longer any real doubts about the urgency of the problem. Not to act now, in this small window of opportunity, would be folly on an unprecedented scale.
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