Special report from UN climate conference in Bali



View slideshow

When the U.N. convened its 13th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change in steamy Bali in December, it held high expectations that the international community would be united over what course of action should be taken to curb the buildup of greenhouse gases. The event was carefully orchestrated from beginning to end, with an eye toward presenting to the world that a “consensus” had been reached on the need for a second Kyoto Treaty to replace the current one set to expire in 2012. Whatever dissent might yet remain would be given scant voice at this exotic extravaganza set on the sandy shores of the Indian Ocean.

The newly elected president of Australia, Kevin Rudd, was initially given top billing at the event to announce to the world that his country was prepared to do penance for its weighty sin of being one of only two major nations failing to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. To the delight of those in attendance, he announced his government is now on board the Kyoto bandwagon, thus isolating the United States as the last remaining holdout. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Leonardo DiCaprio were invited to add celebrity power to the gathering, and Al Gore, fresh back from collecting his Nobel Prize in Oslo, was given a hero’s welcome as he trumpeted the call for a “Bali mandate” to press ahead for a new treaty.

Into this festive setting dropped a small group of scientists and free-market advocates intent on expressing a different point of view regarding the science, economics and policy implications of a new global warming treaty. Arriving from New Zealand, Australia, England, India, and the U.S., these “skeptics” came to present facts and empirical data to anyone who would dare listen. They came with a mission: to make the case for a more reasoned, balanced approach on the climate change issue and challenge the clarion call for a second draconian Kyoto-style treaty based on new revelations in science. But their job, as they soon would discover, would not be easy.

Right from the beginning, some found it difficult to even obtain entry into the conference site. Among them was the Third Viscount of Brenchley, Lord Monckton of England, who had applied as a journalist writing for Environment and Climate News but was immediately denied accreditation. While the U.N. was undoubtedly aware of Lord Monckton’s writings in many distinguished journals and newspapers (and that his views were divergent from its own), the official reason presented for the royal snub was that the U.N. did not recognize the magazine, which boasts a circulation of in excess of 22,000, to be a “legitimate” publication.

While U.N. officials may have felt comfortable in bouncing what they believed was a troublesome nuisance from their bash, the publisher of Environment and Climate News, the libertarian-leaning Heartland Institute, understandably did not take kindly to the insult. In a strongly worded press release, the respected think tank shot back and cried viewpoint discrimination – and its complaint gained audience with newspapers, web blogs, television and talk radio programs across the nation. In fact, both Rush Limbaugh and Fox News ran with the story, and millions of Americans heard about how the U.N. was attempting to silence dissenting views.

As for Lord Monckton, he fortunately had other cards to play – and through his connection as a policy analyst for CFACT he eventually did make his way into the conference setting. He also took occasion early on to fire off an opinion piece to the Jakarta Post taking aim at the direction of the Bali gathering — an article which earned him some notoriety just as he was beginning to delve into the U.N. climate summit process.

Getting started

Over the first couple of days the small group, soon referred to as “Team Bali,” went about setting up shop and preparing for action. Their headquarters was a small, two-room office space at the Inna Putri Hotel located only a short distance from the conference site (but still a 10,000 rupiah, or $1, cab ride to and from due to the oppressive Indonesia heat). Bryan Leyland of the International Science Coalition (ISCS) from New Zealand was appointed group leader, and they convened every day at 8:30 to strategize and set in motion the day’s activities.

First order of business was to set up a press conference. The message would be to announce the arrival of skeptics and present information to the international media critical of the current state of climate science. A small room at the NGO forum was granted to CFACT during the first week to carry out this task, and after disseminating numerous press notices at the on-site media center, some forty members of the press did actually turn out to hear another side of the global warming story. The first event began and was proceeding quite smoothly, in fact perhaps too smoothly, when word got out and reached the ears of certain U.N. administrators that a robust dialogue between skeptics and the media was occurring. That was apparently more than could be stomached. Needless to say, it did not take long before an official from the Secretariat’s office promptly stormed into the meeting, broke up discussion, and ordered everyone out of the room.

The official reason the U.N. offered for why the press conference had to be discontinued was that the room they had assigned the scientists was for use as a meeting room only, and unlike most every other room in that particular section of the NGO forum, this one did not allow for admittance of so-called “outsiders” (i.e., members of the press). This meant the U.N. had given the scientists, who had requested a venue to carry out a press conference, essentially a place where they were allowed only to talk to each other, but no one else. Hardly a shining moment for free speech.

For their part though, Team Bali was content. Despite the U.N.’s obvious attempt at stifling their voice, the scientists were able to interact with members of the media and the discourse was largely friendly. Writers from such publications as New Scientist and the Jakarta Post, among others, along with a local Balinese television station were in attendance, and their cards and contact information were garnered and kept for use in future press releases. It also prompted a subsequent interview the next business day by Marc Morano of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and that story found its way into the highly trafficked Drudge Report.

As for the U.N., its retribution was swift. The room, which was initially granted use by CFACT for one hour each day for two weeks, was subsequently reduced to only one allocated slot, and done so without any notification. The ability to garner any other room would be contingent upon availability, and somehow that availability was proving more and more difficult to come by – especially as it became apparent many rooms would be deemed “unavailable” whether they were in use or not. To get their message out, Team Bali would have to test new approaches.

A change in tactics

It was becoming clear as the conference was now into its second and final week that more significant, and direct action must be undertaken. Team members Owen McShane from New Zealand and Dave Evans from Australia, among others, began carrying copies of the “Global Warming Swindle” directly into the media center and handing them out to anyone with a press badge. New Zealanders Greg Batte and Bryan Leyland busied themselves on computers crafting and printing numerous fact sheets that would then be sent along for distribution to delegates or simply be placed on tables. And eventually, a plan was conceived to carry out a small demonstration right in front of the Conference center itself – a high traffic area where it would be nearly impossible not to be spotted by media passing to and fro.

The idea for what form this protest would take came from Joanne Nova of Australia, who suggested showcasing the seven scientists present in the team, along with Lord Monckton, all sporting lab coats and sunglasses and carrying a banner stating their opposition to formulation of a heavy-handed Kyoto 2. Of course, trying to get permission from U.N. officials to carry out such a demonstration would no doubt prove difficult, especially in lieu of the previous scruff, but it was an effort all believed to be well worth making.

Fortunately, the front of the conference center was not a site lost to the Greens, and they frequently stage short demonstrations of their own in that exact location. Thus when CFACT’s executive director, Craig Rucker, approached the Secretariat’s office seeking similar permission to stage an event there (and armed with photos revealing that others had done so) it proved difficult for the administrators to quickly brush it off without reason. In the end, after efforts to stonewall failed, permission was reluctantly granted for an event to take place on the second to the last day of the conference – the very same day Al Gore was to make his grand entrance.

Preparations for the event swung into motion as a local tailor was employed to craft the garments and a large sheet, stretching about 12 yards in length, was ordered as well. The exact wording for the banner was a group effort, and it was decided that the slogan “No Kyoto 2 … New Science Dispels Old Global Warming Fears” would be displayed. The large task of painting the banner fell principally on the shoulders of Greg and JoAnne who stayed up late that evening to ensure it would be ready for action.

When morning came, Team Bali set out for the conference site uncertain as to what might happen. Inside the compound people were bustling about, many in eager anticipation of the arrival of Al Gore that evening. The media presence was strong, much stronger than it had been previous to that point, so it appeared good fortune was in store. Also appearing that day was a small group of Green demonstrators who set the stage. By appearing shortly before Team Bali was in place, they had already drawn significant media attention to the area. Certainly there was a buzz was in the air. By the time lab coats were donned and the banner unfurled, camera crews and photographers had arrived and the show was ready to begin.

Marching out into the center of the conference spotlight strode the seven scientists with their banner. The media, now alerted to a controversy ensuing, slowly started to pull away from the Greens and center their cameras on the new arrivals. What started slowly at first soon grew to become a frenzy, and before long there were so many media personnel swarming the scientists that the banner vanished from sight. Interviews started to be conducted with many of the scientists one on one. Dr. Vincent Gray of New Zealand was descended on by numerous reporters asking questions about his role as an IPCC scientist challenging climate science, while Lord Monckton conducted interview after interview by reporters clamoring to hear the point of view of a “peer” of England’s House of Lords. Others on the team were also poured over and given much attention, and few reporters could be seen paying much mind to the Greens who seemed to have dropped out of site.

The commotion, as might be expected, did not go long unnoticed by U.N. officials. Within 10 minutes of the media’s arrival, a representative from the Secretariat’s office was there on the scene doing her best to lighten the PR damage. Although clearly upset by the ruckus, the constraint of being filmed by the world media softened her demeanor, and she reluctantly allowed the event to proceed (although for not more than 10 minutes longer!) and moved the scientists some 25 yards back across the street. The event eventually unwound after about a half an hour. The heat was intense and everyone was wet with sweat. Various side interviews continued to take place for some time afterward, but the shot had been fired … and the target had been hit.

That evening, the small demonstration started making news on various television stations around the world. A Japanese news station carrying the story was viewed by the members themselves in their own hotel that night, and it was heard or seen by others on larger networks including NPR and BBC World as well. Although exhausted and tired, Team Bali had achieved its aim, and the message had reached the ears meant to hear it.

Parting Shots

As a follow up to this event, CFACT set up two more press gatherings – one the afternoon following , and the next the morning afterward on the last day of the conference. Both became victim, however, of bad U.N. sportsmanship.

The first one featured Bryan Leyland and Lord Monckton who intended to used the forum to explain some of the uncertainties in global warming science. The side event was to take place in the NGO forum, typical of where such activities occurred, and might have well drawn a sizable crowd but for the fact that it wasn’t mentioned in the official U.N. program. The reason for the omission? No explanation was offered. The fact of the matter was that a detailed description of the event was delivered on time to the appropriate editors, but when it was printed all that was mentioned was the name of the group “CFACT” in the time slot with no explanation of what was to take place to entice reporters. Indeed, this proved to be the only side event on the program that day without such a byline – and the omission was significant as it is known by all to be a critical element in drawing attendance to an event. Needless to say, few showed up to see the otherwise excellent presentations and it appeared the omission achieved its aim.

The other event was to be a final, wrap up press conference to take place in the main conference center on the last day. Much effort went into arranging this event, and CFACT was initially approved to carry it out. But the night before it was to occur, word came back that the request had been reviewed by the Secretariat’s office and was subsequently denied. This marked the final and last snub handed to Team Bali – which did use the occasion to send out one last press release detailing the slap in its face to the international media, and it was picked up domestically in the U.S. on Fox News.

Conclusion

The Bali conference ended much different, one expects, than U.N. officials anticipated. Their opening speaker, Mr. Rudd, who was brought in to set a new tone soon found himself backtracking from any specific commitments to timetables on deep cuts in emissions – earning him some sneers and disfavor among global warming enthusiasts. China and India, whose emissions are now outpacing the rest of the world’s, still retained their unmovable opposition to crafting any treaty which would seek reductions on their part. Arnold Schwarzenegger never showed up because of budget issues back in California, and Leonardo DiCaprio was nowhere to be seen. Even the showcasing of Al Gore didn’t seem to move matters along substantively, for while his appearance as a Nobel prize winner was supposed to enhance the prestige of the U.N. cause, it was somewhat trumped when the Pope issued a timely statement urging caution be taken in the pursuit of scaling back emissions, particularly because of its impact on the poor. Only the announcement by the U.S. delegation that it would like to participate in crafting a 2009 agreement seemed to add new energy to the process, but it remains to be seen if such involvement helps or complicates matters from the purists’ perspective.

So Team Bali broke camp and left. It was a small shot in a big war, but seemed to have a greater impact than many would have anticipated. And for those who were part of this high profile event, it will undoubtedly carry with it many lessons for future campaigns, along with memories certain to be nurtured for years to come.

Categories

About the Author: CFACT

CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.