Bali-hoo: And so it’s all over...

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The FT’s John Aglionby looks behind the scenes at the United Nations conference on climate change in Bali.

Sunday December 16


And so it’s all over. The 190 ministers have packed the Bali Roadmap into their suitcases to take home for dissection and contemplation. Unsurprisingly, virtually all are talking up the agreement – it would be political suicide to return to one’s voters admitting failure. Meanwhile non-governmental organisations are describing it as everything from a “suicide pact” to a “person with a broken leg - alive but in need of fixing”.

Where’s the truth? Considering the intransigence shown by the United States, Canada and Japan throughout most of the fortnight, the roadmap is about as well signposted as it was ever going to be. The above was typified by the answer given by Harland Watson, the US chief negotiator when asked if he was worried about the state of the world his children and grandchildren would inherit if Washington remained so obstructive. “I don’t have any children,” was all he said. So the lack of explicit emission cuts targets for developed countries is not really a surprise.

There are two reasons for hope. The first is that public awareness of the need for urgent action to combat climate change is increasing all the time. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has changed policy several times in the last few months as more and more evidence has emerged about how parlous the state of the planet is. There is little reason to suspect that won’t continue to happen, and not just in Britain.

The place where it needs to happen most is obviously the United States. The key date in the run-up to the Copenhagen conference in 2009, where the new regime is due to be finalised, is January 20, 2009. This is when the new American president takes office. It is highly unlikely that the new president will be even half as obdurate as George W. Bush on the subject. The big unknown is whether the new government can move fast enough to ensure a deal is reached 11 months later in Denmark.

And so what were my highlights and lowlights of Bali? Listening to Al Gore in person for the first time and the press conferences held by his government’s delegation were certainly amongst the former – but for completely opposite reasons. Mr Gore was undoubtedly inspiring while the administration’s representatives’ utterances ranged from the barking mad to the sublime. How anyone can say words to the effect of “We’ll lead as long as everyone else falls into line behind” with a straight face amazes me.

Beyond the repeated late nights and sauna conditions in the media tent there were very few reasons to grumble. The conference was largely well run, it did not feel too overcrowded and, although this may sound corny, one did feel that one was witnessing a key, albeit not too high-profile, moment in world history.

Friday December 14

I am writing this at 11pm - 11 hours past the initial deadline for a deal. The bad news is that the fat lady is probably still many hours away from singing. The good news, if Yvo de Boer, the United Nations’ climate change chief, is to be believed, is that she is “on the brink” of performing.

Much of today has been spent moving from one cancelled press conference to another as negotiations have dragged on and on and on. The main outstanding points now are the extent of the commitments developing countries will have to make under a new global framework and the extent to which the scientific reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will guide the next two years of negotiations on a substantive agreement.

To cut two weeks of negotiations short, the United States, supported by Canada, Japan and Saudi Arabia, is opposed to specific emission reduction targets in the Bali roadmap, as the deal is likely to be called. To me, this seems pretty crazy.

Washington has accepted and applauded the work of the IPCC – in a press conference yesterday it was mentioned four times- and all positively. But suddenly, at crunch time, the United States has gone, in the words of Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, “agnostic” on the science. Let’s hope everyone, to continue the analogy, gets religious, otherwise the next two years are going to be very rough for the negotiators.

So when is it all going to end? The Russians are betting on somewhere between 7 and 8am tomorrow while the Indonesians are “hoping for a conclusion before dawn”. Mr de Boer said the process requires speed but not haste given what is at stake – namely the first ever global deal on climate change that will fundamentally alter nations’ development strategies.

“Countries [want] to make sure they are not led up the garden path to places they don’t want to go,” the metaphor-a-minute Dutchman said.

Where that garden path leads remains to be seen. Hopefully we’ll get some sleep tonight but whatever happens I’ll be back tomorrow to describe the euphoria, delight, and popping champagne corks of the deal or tears of ministers struggling to conjure up a way to explain why they have let down the hopes and expectations of a world demanding a deal to save the planet.

Thursday December 13

The clash of the celebrities. That was today in a nutshell. While ministers and their cohorts were huddled in tense negotiations, there was plenty of time for the rest of us to hit the “side events”, as the non-official parts of the conference are called.

Top of the bill was Al Gore, the former US vice-president-turned-climate change warrior, who has just flown in from collecting the Nobel peace prize. He was undoubtedly impressive and inspiring, even if some of his material did have the feel of being wheeled out for the 639th time.

Climate change sceptics were likened to politicians who appeased Adolf Hitler in the run-up to World War Two and his own government was branded the “elephant in the room” obstructing progress towards an agreement.

“We have to expand the limits of what’s possible,” he said, “we must have the moral imagination of humankind to see ourselves as the symbol of global civilisation.”

Many people left the room with an obvious warm glow in their hearts and a spring in their step. Whether it will still be there come close of play tomorrow is a very different matter.

Much more understated – in a polo shirt, slacks, and loafers with no socks – was Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor of New York. The 40-strong audience at his event was a twentieth the size of that packed into the conference hall to hear Mr Gore’s peroration.

It was a shame though because while Mr Gore is, for the most part, a “sayer” – save for his role making money from investing in clean technology and lecturing on climate change – Mr Bloomberg is a “doer”, both personally and professionally. He eschews a car to commute to work by subway and has adapted his PlaNYC overhaul of the city to give tackling climate change a higher profile.

He is trying to address the chronic heat inefficiency of most of the city’s buildings, is about to start a trial congestion charge scheme for motorists and is revamping the city’s outdated power plants.

And so who was the winner? Hard to tell. Both came in a private jet and there is not much to choose from either in terms of motivation or actions.

Wednesday December 12

And so government leaders and ministers have finally arrived on the scene to do the heavy lifting their officials were unable to complete. The opening ceremony of the so-called high-level segment was a mixture of the tragic – a minute’s silence for the United Nations staff killed in the Algiers bombing, the sublime – Indonesian president singing a song to spur everyone into action, and the comedic.

This was in the form of the unstated but obvious who-can-deliver-the-best-quote competition. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, did pretty well with a dig at Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, on his ratification of the Kyoto protocol: “I say to you: Welcome aboard, mate!”

Ban Ki-moon’s effort was more serious, perhaps appropriately so for a UN secretary-general: ”Our atmosphere can’t tell the difference between emissions from an Asian factory, the exhaust from a North American SUV, or deforestation in South America or Africa.”

But the winner was Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, with the very well crafted: ”Climate change policies cannot be the frosting on the cake of development; they must be baked into the recipe of growth and social development.” With ingredients like that in the hands of such a chef, what can I say?

So how much more heavy lifting is there to be done? According to Al Gore, the new Nobel laureate who has a publicity machine to feed and was speaking from the close vantage point of Sweden, the answer is a lot. “The position of the administration in the US right now appears to be to try to block any progress in Bali. I hope that will change,” he said.

People fractionally nearer the action are more optimistic. Yes, the US delegation is not a modicum of progressive climate change diplomacy and yes it is doubtful that all mention of specific targets might be removed, but it does appear that consensus is approaching on the two key issues. These are the need to start formal negotiations on a new global regime and to set a 2009 deadline for those talks. What the boundaries of those negotiations will be remains to be settled and last night’s 2am close of play is likely to be repeated today, tomorrow and possibly Friday too.

Finally, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I heard the Saudi minister’s speech. The country’s attitude to climate change could not be stated more clearly than the fact they send their petroleum and mineral resources minister rather than anyone connected to the environment or sustainable development – although he would argue he is intimately linked to both.

Unless the translator got things very badly wrong, Ali Bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi said industrialised countries’ increasing move into renewable energy was a “prejudice continued against petroleum products” and would build a “distortion into energy markets”. He also said there was no proof that moves away from fossil fuels would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Come off it! Where have you been for the last year or five Mr Al-Naimi. And what has your delegation been doing for the last 10 days?

Tuesday December 11

I’ve never attended a telethon like Britain’s Comic Relief, in which people proudly announce how much money they’re giving to any particular charity. But the launch of the World Bank’s forest carbon partnership facility today was how I imagine one would be like.

It began with Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, introducing the undoubtedly worthy cause: helping to stop tropical deforestation and in doing so tackle 20 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Then a “victim”, a person representing the world’s indigenous peoples, gave an impassioned plea for their rights to be respected.

Then ministers and ambassadors from nine countries proudly announced their contributions, followed by the CEO of the Nature Conservancy, almost as a non-government validation of the enterprise. Mr Zoellick said it would cost $5bn a year to save the forests and that the amount raised so far was only a small percentage of that. He didn’t quite say: “And now ring this number to give us your pledges” but he wasn’t far off from doing so.

The major embarrassment was the absence of the host: Indonesia’s forestry minister. Perhaps he saw through the facade of the project or perhaps he actually was trying to save the forests.

Also conspicuously not mentioned, but heavy in the sticky tropical atmosphere, was the fact that one of the nations not represented on the stage, Norway, announced two days ago that it was ponying up $2.5bn over the next five years to help save forests. This is many times the amount in the World Bank’s FCPF piggy bank so far, but no one wanted to spoil the feel-good factor.

One person who seemed admirably impervious to the Balinese weather today was Penny Wong, the new Australian climate change minister. Despite wearing a jacket during an outdoor press conference, not one drop of sweat appeared on her brow, despite the roasting the reporters gave her. One hack, who would have won a wet-shirt contest for the amount he had sweated, reckoned Ms Wong must have had her preparatory briefing in a freezer to remain so cool.

Also putting the World Bank donors to shame is the Google Foundation. I bumped into one of its officers and jokingly asked whether they were putting tens or hundreds of millions into climate change projects this year. The officer replied, totally seriously, that it was only tens of millions this year but could rise to hundreds of millions next year, with the vast majority going to American projects. Considering the US is the world’s biggest emitter, that’s probably the best place for Google’s efforts.

Perhaps Mr Zoellick should have attended the wedding of Google founder Larry Page last weekend and asked for a chunk of change.

Snap: There has been debate amongst conference participants as to whether it is better to have a conference in the sweltering heat (32 degrees) and humidity (85 per cent) of Bali or the freezing cold of the northern hemisphere. I wonder what these people would have answered after they’d queued for an hour to get registered....

Snap: Oxfam International researcher Kate Raworth explains a chart depicting the comparison between developed and least developed countries’ greenhouse gas emisisons and GDP per capita. Oxfam is campaigning for developed states to do more to help least developed states adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Monday December 10

I do have to wonder why anyone would ever want to be a climate change negotiator. OK, so you’re doing more than the vast majority of people to try and save the world from a path of self-inflicted destruction and that must make you feel better. But think what you have to put up with.

The hours are awful for starters. The gossip in the corridors at the convention centre was that the negotiations on Monday would go on until 3am and perhaps even later the following days (or should that be nights). I am convinced part of the reason the talks drag on so long is because what they’re haggling over is just about incomprehensible.

For example, in the draft text of the Ad-hoc Working Group’s agenda on Monday, one paragraph they had to agree on went as follows. In preparation of the first part of its fifth session, the AWG … reminded Parties and accredited observer organisations of its invitations (FCCC/KP/AWG/2007/2, paragraph 24 and FCCC/KP/AWG/2007/4, paragraph 24) to submit, by 15 February 2008, information and views on the means to achieve mitigation objectives of Annex I Parties referred to in document FCCC/KP/AWG/2006/4, paragraph 17(b) , and for Annex I Parties to include in their submissions information on the potential environmental, economic and social consequences, including spillover effects on all Parties, in particular developing country Parties, of available tools, policies, measures and methodologies available to Annex I Parties.

The world will heat up an extra degree just with the stress of everyone trying to decipher such techno-babble.

Now for some humble pie on my own beat. I have to hold up my hand and confess I have made a mistake in earlier diary entries. Ever since Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol last Monday, I have been writing that the United States is now the only developed country not to have signed. It turns out that is not the case.

Harlan Watson, the US chief negotiator, told a press conference today that Washington is not isolated because another developed nation has not ratified. And that country is? Turkey. Under the UN climate change convention Turkey is classified as developed, though far less developed than the US.

And finally, better late than never, Indonesia – with help from Australia and the United States - has established a Save-the-orangutan programme. It took three years to develop (I can’t think why it would take more than three months) and hopes to halt the orangutan’s drift to extinction and restore forests in the meantime. Good luck to the Indonesians. But I do wonder just where the promised millions will go while corruption is so endemic and illegal logging so rampant.

Sunday December 9

One has to feel sorry for Mari Pangestu, the Indonesian trade minister. She takes the imaginative initiative to host a two-day trade ministers meeting on the sidelines of this conference, and what happens? She ends up being stranded in the middle of a public fireworks display between American trade representative Susan Schwab and Brazilian minister of external relations, Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim.

All the harmony pervading the negotiations on a future global climate change regime were conspicuously absent during the press conference at the end of the trade ministers meeting. The Americans and European Union have proposed a list of 43 “green” goods and services, taken from the World Bank, in which they want to see trade liberalised. But it does not include ethanol, a fuel the Brazilians have used for 30-plus years and can produce an awful lot cheaper than Uncle Sam.

Why not? According to Ms Schwab, the problem is that ethanol is an agricultural matter and so not in the same basket as the other items. Mr Amorim sees it differently. If the US eliminated its 53US cents/gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, squillions of Americans would lose their jobs but the world would be a less polluted place.

This list of 43 items includes items such as bicycles, padlocks (for the bicycles) and helmets (for the riders) in addition to solar panels and wind farm equipment, according to David Runnalls of the International Institute of Sustainable Development. Curiously it is just about the only thing at this conference on which the EU and the US are on the same page.

Anyway, the fireworks sparkled for several minutes until Mrs Pangestu found her extinguisher. Let’s hope the finance ministers’ meeting that gets underway tomorrow generates as much excitement.

British readers will be glad to hear that the UK delegation’s heavy artillery is starting to arrive. Indeed, environment minister Phil Woolas is so energised about the conference he is writing a climate change blog. In his latest entry he flays the British media for criticising the size of the government delegation (45) even though it is, he claims, smaller than the number of British journalists covering the event. Considering the size of the conference, 45 is probably not an overly large delegation. But to say that that is smaller than the hack pack when he has no idea how many journalists are attending is a bit rich.

Lastly, I feel I have been complimented in that someone else is using the name of this diary, Bali-hoo. The Heartland Institute, one of the most sceptical groups around, titled its last commentary on the event: Bali—hoo – UN climate change model hurts the poor. I can’t say I agree with the thrust of the article but it is always flattering to be imitated.

Friday December 7

It is nine metres long and comes with 10 square metres of solar panels. Its steering wheel can be withdrawn and connected to the passenger’s side of the vehicle, it emits zero greenhouse gases and costs as much as two Ferraris. What is it? The solution to the world’s transport needs. Or so says Louis Palmer, the Swiss man who developed the Solar Taxi.

Running completely on renewable energy – that’s the reason for the extraordinary length, the ebullient Mr Palmer says – the vehicle can speed at up to 90 km/h for 300 km if it is cloudy and 400 km in sunlight.

This prototype, in Bali as part of a two-year, round-the-world tour, is different to the model Mr Palmer hopes to see developed for the mass market. That would require no trailer, would cost only $7,000 and the battery would be charged from panels on one’s roof at home. “About 78 per cent of car journeys in Switzerland are done with only one person in the car so a small vehicle running on solar power is all that is necessary,” he said

So why aren’t we all driving them yet? That’s when Mr Palmer gets a bit fuzzy – heading off into a long description on new energy and the power of the oil lobby. Still watch this space, and watch out next time you’re in Switzerland for what might be coming round the corner.

Many delegates felt cheated tonight when news came through that a 5.9-magnitude quake had struck in the sea 100km south of Bali at 6.45pm. “What, I didn’t feel anything,” was a common refrain. Still, having been spooked by two large earthquakes in Indonesia this year, I am more than happy not to have felt anything.

But considering there are about three quakes of greater than 5 on the Richter scale every day in Indonesia, the chances are high delegates will have a quake-survival-tale to take home with them by the end of next week.

Lastly, I am beginning to wonder if Yvo de Boer fancies himself as the next Nelson Mandela. Not because he’s a former political prisoner who is trying to save the world, rather than just a nation, but because he’s been wearing a batik shirt ever since the opening ceremony.

They’re not quite as bright as the former South African president’s; Mr de Boer prefers softer browns and yellows, but he clearly likes the shirts so much that some of his staff have taken to wearing them too. Perhaps this conference really will help Indonesia’s economy after all.

Thursday December 6

Three days after two Greenpeace activists dressed as polar bears demonstrated outside the conference centre, waving fans saying “I’m a Kyoto fan”, eight more furry friends from the Arctic appeared this morning in Nusa Dua – the artificially-created enclave on Bali where the conference is taking place.

These were courtesy of Oxfam International, which has, by its own admission, come to the climate change party only relatively recently. Chanting: “Save Humans Too”, one of the almost-blind bears (I think the tailors had not thought too much about eyeholes) rode around on the back of a tandem while his friends waved placards and marched up and down.

Who’ll be next? Orangutans? Penguins?

The more serious message was that climate change is also a human rights issue – with millions of people around the world facing their communities being washed, burnt and parched away.

Meanwhile, the UN estimated today that each delegate will, on average, generate 4.07 tonnes of carbon dioxide travelling to and from the conference – or as much as 20,000 cars produce in a year.

There’s been quite a lot of criticism around the world over the amount of pollution this conference is generating and the questionable efficacy of the offsetting methods. While I agree that the offsetting calculations are far from exact, I have to say I find the criticism petty. Delegates are trying to reach an agreement that will save tens of billions of tonnes of carbon emissions every year and businesspeople are striking deals that will save tens of millions of tonnes a year too.

I have to confess I did Nusa Dua a slight disservice yesterday when castigating its lack of magic. Last night I walked home from the conference centre to my hotel along the beach and it was truly magical. This was, however, only because I was doing it well after midnight when no one else was around (including, rather worryingly any security guards) apart from a few solitary fishermen wading through the shallows with torches attached to their conical hats so they had both hands free to use their nets.

Twinkling lights from the hotels lit up the palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, the sea lapped almost conversationally on the white sand beaches, the temperature was probably a balmy 20 degrees celcius and everything was perfectly tranquil. Perhaps the negotiating should be done on the beach at night… but then again, the bureaucratic hordes would shatter the atmosphere and so disperse the magic.

Wednesday, December 5

As they went into their first full day of serious “contact group” negotiating today – as opposed to plenary sessions of initial statements – most delegates were doing their utmost to play down expectations of a massive breakthrough. An alliance of business groups is, however, trying to keep them honest by issuing a “Progress in Bali” scorecard.

If I were a betting man, I would offer extremely long odds on all the boxes in the eight-point cut-out-and-keep wish list being ticked. “Conclusion of negotiations on a post-2012 regime by 2009” should be attainable but the chances of industrialised nations agreeing that their aggregate emission reductions should be in the range of 25-40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020 are close to zero.

And anyone who genuinely hopes to tick: “Reference to the need for rapidly industrialising developing countries to make MEASURABLE CONTRIBUTIONS to global efforts…” [my capitals] will probably have to head to the nearby Gili islands to get some of the readily available magic mushrooms to suspend reality. Still one can live in hope.

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s finance minister, told me today she hopes the legendary “magic of Bali” will cast its spell over proceedings. To be fair to her, as she prepares to host next week the first ever finance ministers meeting dedicated to climate change, she does have a point; the island does have a certain je ne sais quoi.

This is a photo of Santi, one of the godesses, with a "nature" dancer in the background. Tropical Forest Group organised a dance to depicting the relationship between gods, humans and nature.

Unfortunately the conference is the one part of Bali – the Nusa Dua resort enclave – where the magic is in conspicuous short supply.

So that means the magic will have to come to the men and women. It did in the form of a dance laid on by the Tropical Rainforest Group today. Some three dozen graceful Balinese (see photo) performed to promote the NGO’s desire to have avoided deforestation included in the post-Kyoto agreement. Their dance symbolising the harmony between the gods, humans and the earth was only marred by one person fainting in the scorching tropical heat. Let’s hope it was not down to global warming.

I have at last managed to try out one of the free bikes at the conference and can understand why 13 of them were nicked on day one. Mine had 12 gears and was a joy to ride. The only downside was that I caught up with a tourist bus belching the sort of smoke that created peasoupers in London 50 years ago. Perhaps I’ll stick to walking tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 4

If I needed any reminding of just how popular this conference is, of how the world, its spouse and kids want to be here and be seen to be here, I got it today when I attended a press conference in a luxury spa.

The organisers, British climate change project developer Sindicatum Carbon Capital, claimed the location was chosen because nowhere else was available near the conference centre. I wasn’t so sure – more like clever marketing to entice the hacks, I’d say.

Alas, we weren’t offered even a foot rub from the attendant therapists during the proceedings.

Back in the conference centre, the climate Action Network, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, had launched a scathing attack on the so-called “Umbrella Group”, the cabal of industrialised nations including the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia that NGOs, with good justifications, have for years lambasted for not being truly committed to the Kyoto protocol process as they should be.

Today the NGOs said some Umbrella Group members’ apparent contempt for Kyoto had reached a new height (or perhaps low), particularly since so much scientific evidence has emerged this year that climate change is unequivocal.

Some experts said, however, that the Umbrella group members might just be performing “early days” posturing and their true positions won’t emerge till ministers arrive next week. Indeed, perhaps it is the NGOs who are engaging in exactly the same activity – a bit of early doors posturing to garner publicity.

The NGO side events are pretty impressive but I was bemused to read that an NGO bingo session was scheduled. Apparently this was not a gambling event but one for Big International NGOs. I then discovered it can also refer to BIsiness (sic) NGOs.

The alphabet soup does not end there. There are also RINGOs (Research Institute NGOs), IPOs (International Policy Organisations) and a slew of other categories.

One person who did undermine his green credentials today was Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, who swept into Nusa Dua – the five star resort enclave hosting the conference – in a convoy of more than 10 motorbikes and almost 20 other vehicles. Couldn’t they have all travelled in a bus to save fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases?

And finally, statistic of the day, courtesy of Oxfam International: rich countries have paid less into a UN fund to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change ($67m) than the amount Americans spend on suntan lotion each month.

Monday, December 3

And so the curtain has risen. After months of scientific doomsday predictions and every world leader scampering to clamber aboard the climate change bandwagon, the serious negotiations on creating a successor to the Kyoto protocol have begun, here on “the island of the Gods”, as the Balinese modestly like to call their home.

How is it all going to pan out? There are no spread betting bookmakers in the conference centre but clues were available elsewhere. On the optimistic side, news that Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, had ratified Kyoto within hours of being inaugurated was greeted with a standing ovation and then, a few minutes later, another ovation. Delegates left the hall with a noticeable spring in their step. But they would not have been pleased to hear that CNN has decided to pull out tomorrow after only two days – citing a probable lack of significant news.

Then there is China. Its role is going to be crucial in the fortnight of negotiations but its commitment does not appear to be total; its booth in the exhibition hall was bedecked with seemingly useful information on what is being done to curb carbon emissions but, whenever I went past, no one was there to explain any of it.

Meanwhile, the Balinese hosts appeared to be trying just a little too hard to prove their green credentials. The island’s government used a two-minute slot during the opening ceremony to show a video highlighting that 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide were saved during the island’s 2007 annual day of silence. The island’s tourism authority was clearly not consulted; the shots of empty streets, deserted beaches and shuttered shops were, short of mentioning the 2002 and 2005 bombings, just about the worst possible advertisement that could have been created to attract tourists.

The national government appears to be more switched on – enticing anyone who visits its pavilion showcasing the sprawling archipelago’s attractions with cups of free organic coffee. Considering how exorbitant the food and drink prices are in the conference centre and how good the government coffee is, I think many delegates will learn an awful lot about Indonesia over the next fortnight even if they don’t reach a deal on climate change.

Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister and the conference president, tried to dampen criticism that the event will create a bigger carbon footprint than any outcome could possibly justify. He said the estimated 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases the conference will create will be more than compensated for by the setting aside of 4,500 hectares of tropical forest across the country. Let’s hope the nation’s hordes of chainsaw-wielding illegal loggers don’t learn the locations….

Sunday, December 2

“Fill my toolbox”. That, in condensed form, is how Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, wants the world to reach a long-term deal on tackling climate change.

My head at the press conference in Bali on the eve of a fortnight of crucial talks to reach a roadmap towards substantive negotiations was immediately filled of images of the Dutchman, dressed very nattily in a batik shirt in deference to his Indonesian hosts, scrambling around the island’s beaches for hammers and screwdrivers.

Alas, the daydream was immediately shattered when de Boer went on to refer to his tools as such heavyweight issues as carbon trading and incentives for developing countries to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions. But he kept referring to his toolbox. So it could well become the conference catchphrase.

While de Boer might encounter difficulties filling his toolbox, the other 10,000-plus delegates expected to descend on the five-star resort enclave of Nusa Dua where the conference is taking place are, unless something changes radically in the next 12 hours, going to face a lot of walking. That’s because the vast majority of one of the organisers’ biggest “attractions” – hundreds of free-to-use bicycles – are nowhere to be seen.

Only about eight were on view outside the conference centre last night and they were all locked up. “They’ll all be available tomorrow,” a helpful cop guarding them said.

Let’s hope so. Otherwise I can envisage Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, fighting with Kevin Rudd, the newly-elected Australian prime minister who’s heading to the conference to burnish his green credentials, for the last remaining bright yellow bike.

Also conspicuously absent were lights on the bikes. Considering it gets dark on Bali at 6.30pm and negotiators have been advised to pack a lot of midnight oil to burn, I can envisage a lot of blood on the streets when tired delegates get mown down by vehicles that just didn’t see them.

Some organisations are, perhaps wisely, staying well clear of the tight security and prospect of dead cyclists at Nusa Dua. Greenpeace, an environmental group, for example, held a display of solar powered vehicles 40 minutes’ drive away on the beach in Kuta, Bali’s best-known backpackers’ surfing hangout.

But anyone thinking these “cars” might replace the missing bikes or even make redundant the internal combustion engine, had better think again. Most were less than 10cms long and only a few centimetres high. But I guess all great innovations have to start somewhere.

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