NUSA DUA, Indonesia -- A historic agreement reached here Saturday afternoon paves the way for a new global warming treaty that for the first time will include binding emission reductions from major economies such as the United States and also commitments from developing nations like China and India.
The "Bali Road Map" approved after two tense weeks of talks requires about 180 countries to reach agreement by 2009 on a treaty pressing for "deep cuts" in emissions from all governments. There is no specific target named in the United Nations document, but it nonetheless appeared to satisfy most with a reference to key findings from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Also in the text is a first-ever program to help halt destruction of tropical rainforests, a source of 20 percent of heat-trapping emissions every year, as well as a much more sweeping set of goals for helping the poorest countries adapt to inevitable climate change.
"This is a real breakthrough, a real opportunity for the international community to successfully fight climate change," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told reporters.
But it almost didn't happen.
Closed-door negotiations dragged into early Saturday morning without consensus, forcing delegates to return for one final session a few hours later. Many participants were working on little or no sleep.
Frustration poured out when the talks resumed as China and India openly criticized the U.N. conference's organizers for scheduling two sessions at the same time. De Boer, trying to apologize for the miscommunication, left the room in tears.
The drama continued when the United States raised objections after a last-minute change expanded the role it would play in helping poor nations cut their emissions by sharing low- and zero-carbon energy technologies. The U.S. objections prompted a chorus of boos and hisses -- and a series of harsh speeches.
"There's an old saying, 'If you're not willing to lead, get out of the way.' And I would ask the United States, we've asked for your leadership, we seek your leadership, but if for some reason, you're not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us," declared Papua New Guinea delegate Kevin Conrad. "Please get out of the way."
The entire U.N. agreement rested in the balance, and U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobrianky blinked.
"We have come a long way here," she said about 30 minutes after first raising her complaint. "In this, the United States is very committed to this effort and just wants to really ensure we all will act together. With that, Mr. Chairman, let me say to you we will go forward and join consensus in this today."
A standing ovation followed as delegates realized they were one big step closer to adopting the Bali agreement.
White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton downplayed the dispute. "We understand many delegations were concerned," he said in an interview. "But they wanted to be sure that we were satisfied as well."
Tear down the 'Berlin Wall'
Perhaps the biggest shift to emerge from the U.N. conference came from the major developing countries that are now on record accepting "nationally appropriate mitigation actions" that must be "measurable, reportable and verifiable."
It is not a cap on their absolute emissions. But it is a major reversal on a previous 12-year-old agreement -- known in U.N. parlance as the 'Berlin Mandate' -- that had excluded China, India and other developing countries from taking significant steps toward reducing emissions.
"What we've seen disappear today is what I would call 'the Berlin Wall of climate change,'" the United Nations' de Boer said. "This document opens up the possibility of countries who are seeing their economies grow rapidly move into a new spectrum level of commitment, supported by developed countries."
Climate experts attending the talks said they envision a wide range of new policies from developing countries, including industry-specific commitments from cement, electric utilities and manufacturers. Also critical: Third parties will be able to assess the results of developing countries' efforts.
"It has never happened before," said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism. "A year ago, it was totally unthinkable."
The shift in developing country programs may also put an end to a major sticking point in the political debate in the United States, where opponents of a mandatory cap on domestic emissions argue it makes little sense without comparable efforts in fast-growing China and India.
"They won't be able to hide behind the developing countries anymore," said Ned Helme of the Center for Clean Air Policy. "That makes a difference."
Senior U.S. officials welcomed the Bali deal but signaled it was not enough to force a shift in Bush administration climate policies.
White House press secretary Dana Perino released a statement a few hours after the conclusion of the conference stating "serious concerns" about some pieces of the agreement. In particular, Perino said negotiators must be sure over the next two years to differentiate between the bigger and smaller of the developing countries.
In an interview, C. Boyden Gray, U.S. ambassador to the European Union and former White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush, agreed with the notion that the Bali agreement would trump the Berlin Mandate -- eventually.
"It does," Gray said. "I mean, we're not done with the negotiations, we're only beginning. But I think that it will take it off the table. And certainly for the U.S., it's a big relief. This can't be done without them."
Deforestation wins 'watershed moment'
The U.N. deal also breaks new ground with its call for a major new deforestation program that may eventually give Indonesia, Brazil, Costa Rica and other nations access to huge swaths of cash to stop cutting down trees.
"This really is a watershed moment," said Andrew Mitchell, director of the London-based Global Canopy Programme.
For now, the U.N. climate conference has only agreed to study deforestation and work through a series of important technical details on measuring emission reductions and ensuring there is no leakage as loggers move to other forests outside the program.
In Bali, the World Bank launched its own $300 million pilot program to help about 20 countries protect their forest. The Norwegian government also pledged $2.5 billion over five years for the cause.
"Suddenly, the money is materializing," Helme said.
Rainforest nations started their efforts to be included in a new U.N. agreement two years ago but couldn't get much traction. That changed in recent years as the scientific evidence mounted about the threats of climate change, and experts were able to show the developing countries could play a big role in reducing emissions by slowing and stopping their deforestation rates.
"We went from being totally in isolation to now being an active part of the discussions," Papua New Guinea's Conrad said in an interview. "That's excellent, but now the hard work begins."
No emission targets
Most of the attention last week focused on a debate over whether the U.N. document should include specific targets for the new climate treaty.
E.U. leaders warned that if the Bali negotiations broke down, they wouldn't attend several U.S.-led meetings next year on climate. White House officials responded with a heavy telephone campaign to their European counterparts.
Diplomats from both sides of the issue seemed to welcome the final compromise: a footnote in the Bali road map preamble that references the IPCC's findings on emission reductions.
"It's a breakthrough," said Stavros Dimas, top environmental official for the European Commission. "Without numbers, still we have a strong pathway, which will lead in two years to an agreement, which will be of great importance to the planet. The winner is the planet today."
French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said he was not ready to end the boycott threat yet. "That is something I will see with the president [Nicolas Sarkozy]," he said.
From the U.S. perspective, including emission reduction targets in the Bali agreement would "prejudge" its outcome.
In her remarks before the U.N. audience, Dobrianksy referenced only previous Bush administration vows to "consider seriously" a plan to cut global emissions 50 percent by 2050. Bush signed a Group of Eight nations agreement with the same statement earlier this summer.
Even so, many claimed victory.
"Everybody wanted the optics of having it up front, but factually, it's here," Conrad said of the targets.
Environmental groups appeared divided.
"They were forced to give the E.U. the substance, if not the format," Philip Clapp, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said of the Bush administration.
But Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace questioned why U.S. officials would not want to reflect the IPCC text when it had signed off on the reports earlier this year. "I find it deeply worrying that the science is not driving the process," she said. "The science is footnoted. It's buried in a footnote. How can that possibly drive the process if it's almost irrelevant? It's almost as if we don't don't talk about it, and push it to one side, it's not happening."
Bali provided plenty of theatrics. Reporters pounced on the latest text trickling out of closed-door sessions, sometimes knocking over their colleagues in the frenzy. At seemingly every hour, one nongovernment group or another staged a protest in polar bear or penguin suits. Canada and the United States captured the environmentalists' "Fossil of the Year" award for their negotiation positions.
The U.N. conference also exposed the political debates brewing over climate change in many capitals.
Bush's 2004 opponent for the White House, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, dropped in early last week to showcase a different U.S. point of view.
Delegates should remember that Bush won't be in office when the Bali agreement is completed in 2009 in Copenhagen, Kerry said. And he reminded all that the U.S. Senate would not ratify a new climate treaty without movement from China and India.
As the conference ended, Kerry issued a statement from back in Washington that found both "good news" and "bad news" in the Bali agreement. "The Bali road map is not all it could have been, but it is nonetheless a mandate for action whether George Bush realizes it or not," he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, couldn't make the around-the-world journey because of floor debate on energy legislation. In her place, Boxer's office sent a couple of staffers. She also issued a statement at the conclusion of the talks.
"In Bali, the president tried to treat the world the way he treats Congress -- my way or the highway," Boxer said. "The difference is that in Congress he has supporters, but in Bali he had no supporters. Thankfully, at the last minute, he relented and we now have a chance to resume our environmental leadership in the world."
The United States wasn't the only country whose government opponents spoke out.
Canada's minority political party sent Stephen Dion to Bali. The former environmental minister and also the head of a U.N. climate conference two years ago in Montreal, Dion criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's effort to push China and India into accepting mandatory emission limits -- a "poison pill" that some environmental groups said threatened to derail the Bali talks.
"I'm not pleased to see that we're being criticized all over the place, by business groups, by environmental groups, by many delegates," Dion said.
New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also came to Bali, where he staged a photo op to hand over documents ratifying the 10-year-old Kyoto Protocol. But Rudd also refused to sign off on the specific emission limits that the Europeans pushed to add to the Bali agreement. Rudd's freshly installed government wants to wait for the outcome of an economic review next summer before launching a suite of domestic policies.
Meanwhile, Australia's new opposition government -- longtime critics of Kyoto -- reversed itself and backed the Bali text as it worked its way through the negotiation process. Suddenly, it had a wedge issue to attack the new Rudd government.
As the conference drew to a close, a delegate from Egypt perhaps summed it up best: "It feels like we are in a movie with lots of plots."
Click here for the Bali roadmap.
Click here for the Bali decision on deforestation.
Click here for the Bali decision on technology transfer.
Click here for the Bali decision on adaptation funding.
Click here for the Bali decision for Kyoto countries.
Click here to see all of the Bali decisions.