Bali Diary

Tell us what you think…

December 17th, 2007

Monday 12:00, London: Now that the Bali conference has ended, and the jet lag is beginning to set in, we are starting to think about the future of this diary. It seems as though quite a lot of people have been reading it, not least a number of the foreign dignitaries and other notables our Ministers met in Bali.

As the Minister put in his last post, he would be very keen to hear from some of you (his readers) about what you think about the diary, so, assuming you can find a couple of minutes out of your hectic festive schedules to drop a line, or two, to, we would really like to hear from you. Thanks a lot.

Private Office of Phil Woolas

The road map

December 15th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Saturday, 4pm, London: Am back in Britain after 20 hour flight via Osaka of all places. It was one of the most frustrating 20 hours of my life. I left Bali at midnight last night their time with the talks still going on and Hilary still shuttling in and out of the Minister’s negotiating huddle. With my job done and my ticket booked I had to leave without knowing the outcome. Anyway, I’ve talked to one of our negotiating team and she has filled me in with what is good news indeed.

The headlines are about the US U-turn but what really counts is that there is a “road-map”. My own view is that these talks were, without being too melodramatic, a turning point for the world and especially the United Nations. The week started with UN workers being killed by a terrorist bomb in Algeria and ended with a UN agreement involving all the countries of the world.

Phil Woolas with the Canadian Youth DelegationClimate change is by its very nature international. Ultimately it doesn’t matter who caused it or who is causing it, we all suffer from it. Diplomatically it is the ultimate Mutually Assured Destruction. One of the EU negotiators likened the arguments for industrialised countries not taking action to trying to stop your neighbour being alcoholic by getting drunk!

Unlike trade or even arms, it’s very difficult to pin down what it is we are bargaining over. If all the countries of the world said they didn’t care and they weren’t prepared to reduce their carbon footprint, what would we do? We would have to build our flood defences, change our building regulations, etc. at the cost of billions of pounds, far more expensive that changing our energy production methods. In truth the negotiations barter separate but related issues. Trees and clean coal, biofuels and solar, etc depending on the starting point of each country, their economic track and their geography. At the heart of it of course is money but also the world is having to learn that there is a new currency, carbon. Ultimately this fact will change the balance of power in the world.

We now have two years to reach agreement. We have the ambition, rooted in the science, we have the commitments for the industrialised developed and developing countries and we have forestry, technology transfer and finance frameworks to fill in. Can it work? I hope so.

For me, I’ve always being involved in negotiations and bartering ( I worked for a trade union for 7 years and have been involved in the black arts of politics for 25 years!). But I’ve never been involved in anything so complicated. I am exhausted - and it is Hilary Benn who has been working through the night! When we got back to Heathrow the Conference in Bali had finished and I felt like you do at the end of a school term. I’d watched David Attenborough’s Living Planet on the plane and I just can’t help but think we had all better get real.

Let me know if you enjoyed this diary and if you want, I’ll keep it going through to 2009. I’ll put an e-mail address up on Monday. If I don’t get any feedback, you’ll have to wait for the memoirs!

P.S. Photo is of me with the Canadian Youth Delegation explaining how the talks were going. They asked me some of the trickiest questions of the entire conference!

Will we get a deal?

December 14th, 2007

Phil Woolas, 16.45 (8.45am UK time). Wow. Just hosted a meeting with China on where we go from here. Hilary is deep in the negotiations. The stakes couldn’t be higher. I’d met the Chinese Minister twice before so there was a mutual rapport. Also, although I’m not allowed to name them, I was backed up by ‘James’ and ‘Harold’ who have 40 years experience between them. We just don’t appreciate how good our civil servants are.

Before that we’d met with colleagues from Nigeria, who are a key player in the Africa group. For them climate change is all too real and the scale of the problems they deal with make our tribulations seem minor. At least I could look my counterpart in the eye as they recognised the UK contribution.

There is an incredible atmosphere here now. People are starting to leave and I am just packing my suitcase to catch the midnight flight. We may have to leave Hilary with his small team if the talks go through the night. But in the meantime, all of us are speculating, debating and analysing the possible outcomes.

You will probably read the result before I do as I could be on the plane. Will we get a deal? Probably, but now we have to look ahead to the next round.

Over lunch, the UK hosted a meeting with the World Bank and a dozen other countries to discuss ways of backing up the Bali roadmap with real money. The Environmental Transformation Fund means the UK is in a good place to discuss this.

I feel incredibly proud to have a role here, terribly scared of failure, and utterly humbled by some of the people I’ve met. What I am sure of, having seen us in action here, is that the United Kingdom can be proud.

Nearing the endgame

December 14th, 2007

Phil Woolas with French Environment Secretary, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet

Phil Woolas, 8.30am (12.30 am UK time). Serious business yesterday evening which went on to the early hours. I managed to get some sleep but Hilary Benn has been up all night. The constituency casework doesn’t go away either. It’s so odd to be on the phone to their office at 1am in the morning.

I spoke last night with the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, after his chilling and precise presentation including his fears for the loss of snow and ice frm the Himalaya which will cause drought and flooding in sub-Asia. We talked about the sad but inevitable allegations of politicisation of the IPCC by the media and political parties (especially in election time) in the coming years and how we can maintain their integrity.

Anyway, when I woke up, Al Gore was on the TV calling on the US to sign up. I’d tried to get in to hear him but got crushed in the press pack.

Overall it is now very tense indeed. It is truly amazing that people and delegations remain cordial under such intense pressure. We had a UK delegation ‘huddle’ first thing this morning where Hilary bought us up to date and we discussed tactics. Nearing the end game. The form of the goal is to get a wording that is consensual while remaining meaningful and ambitious.

Hilary is going back ot the talks now. I’m off to have more bilaterals and then hosting a lunch about the Environmental Transformation Fund. This is the GBP 800m that Gordon Brown announced last year to help developing countries access clean energy and adapt to climate change and supporting reduced emissions from deforestation etc.

A call to action

December 13th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Thursday, 3pm (7am UK time). This conf is really humming now. Hilary is right at the centre of things along with his colleagues from across the world including South Africa, Portugal (Presidency of the EU), China, Brazil, India and of course the USA.

By the end of the week we need every country signed up to an agreement. There are a dozen or so whose support will determine the fate of the conference and along with it our chances of avoiding the most dangerous climate change.

Hilary and I are meeting with colleagues from other countries throughout the day, discussing issues and what text we can all sign up to. We started at 7am and went through to the early hours last night and kicked off again at 7. I have to tread very carefully at the these crunch stages as the position can change literally minute by minute.

Sometimes the position changes whilst we are in the meetings. Its much easier if I’ve met the Minister before so Connie from Denmark for example I’ve know for 25 years and others I’ve got to know over the last 6 months.

Hilary of course is very well-known and probably has the best contacts of anyone here. I’ve told him last night that the conference divides in two: those who think of him as Tony’s son and those who think of Tony as Hilary’s Dad!

Hilary gave his statement to the conference yesterday. He had about three minutes to state the Government’s formal position to the assembled meeting. It was a call to action, saying we can’t carry on saying “after you” to each other, and have to take action together. That is part of the logic behind the Climate Change Bill in the UK. To show everyone we’re serious.

One of my highlights of yesterday was speaking at the International Trade Unions Confederations. I argued that a sustainable economy meant not just one combining environmental protection and economic growth but one that also ensured employment for all.

Overall though, the big picture here is how do we reconcile the varying views of the developed countries while maintaining the support of the developing world. It is not easy, far from certain, and my stomach is tightening.

High level segment gets underway

December 12th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Wednesday 12.30 pm. Our officials are heavily involved in the details of the negotiations and were working through most the night.

Went to a Met Office side event yesterday evening with a very professional but terrifying presentation on temperature rises. They gave me a copy of their powerpoint presentation which I can adapt to use myself.

Good news on deforestation but, I thought, a response from Friends of the Earth which totally misses the point. They said “this scheme is a form of eco-imperialism foisted on the developing world”.

It’s absurd to argue against hard money going to developing countries to reward rainforests for the global environmental good they provide. Greenpeace see this and said “it would be unthinkable for the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol not to address tropical deforestation”.

I met with the Environment Minister for Guyana today. To claim that incentives are being ‘foisted’ on developing countries couldn’t be further from the truth. Their President recently proposed that to encourage the sustainable use of the Guyanan forests and to value the carbon benefits, they would offer the forests to the carbon market either through carbon trading or bilaterally. It’s an ambitious and innovative proposal and one which merits consideration by us and by others.

Hilary and I are meeting our EU counterparts for lunch today. We’ve been meeting with other counterparts from other countries throughout the morning while our officials are in the negotiations.

Opening the proceedings this morning were powerful speeches this morning from the President of Indonesia (widely know as SBY!), UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and of course Kevin Rudd who received a huge ovation for ratifying Kyoto.

Bali Conference in full flow

December 11th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Tuesday 16.14 pm (8.14am UK time). Just broken for a bit of lunch. The conference is in full flow now, and it really is a huge convention rather than a conference. To get an idea, imagine one of the big party conferences – security, media, pressure groups, big names arriving and departing, and huddles of people and laptops, and more mobile phones than Carphone Warehouse. On top of which it is over 90 degrees F and very sticky. My assistant is covered in mosquito bites. So far they’ve avoided me!

Phil Woolas giving press interviews, Bali, 11 December 2007Behind the scenes the atmosphere is very tense. Good movement on funding for adaptation, optimistic on deforestation, but still too early to tell on the big picture. Everyone is waiting for ‘the Ministers’ to start talking tomorrow.

One of the highlights of my morning was a press conference I held with a large group of journalists from developing countries. In probably one of the best acts of British diplomacy, DfID have funded forty journalists from the developing world, including much of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, to attend the talks and report back home.

Adaptation was a big theme today and I shared a stage with the Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders to discuss how we could support developing countries to prepare for climate change. Together with the World Bank, we announced we will be providing up to £3m towards helping developing countries understand the costs of adaptation and how to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Phil Woolas at adaptation event, Bali, 11 December 2007Forestry is the other big story of the day, and Hilary Benn announced that the UK will contribute £15 million to a World Bank initiative to reduce emissions from deforestation. Emissions from deforestation account for up to a fifth of global emissions and we need to ensure they are included any future climate framework. This money will help pilot schemes to try and achieve just that.

The Balinese are incredibly friendly, everybody smiles and is so helpful but it is very strange having policemen with me (almost) all the time. Probably the weirdest birthday I’ve had!

Fasten your seatbelts!

December 10th, 2007

Phil Woolas with Sir Nicholas Stern at Singapore AirportPhil Woolas, Monday 11.10am/7.10pm. Somewhere over the South China SeaOn the last leg of the the flight to Bali with Sir Nicholas Stern. The past few days have been very frustrating as the conference has been going on for six days and it’s only now that Hilary and I can take part.

Mind you, I’ve had a very busy week. Spoke to the LGA Climate Change Conference in Leicester, had the debate on the performance of Defra in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening and then our regular Defra questions on Thursday. I’ve also had meetings with my counterpart in Norway, the Minister of Environment and Development, Erik Solheim and a detailed meeting with Johan Eliasch on deforestation. Wednesday was mostly devoted to our upcoming Water Strategy which we are publishing in January. Spent Friday and Saturday in the constituency (thank goodness).

The big news for Bali has been the passing of the cap and trade bill in the US Senate Committee. Senator John Kerry has two powerful articles published in the International Herald Tribune and Boston Globe. He says a US cap and trade scheme is inevitable.

Phil Woolas speaking at the LGA Climate Change ConferenceFor me, terrible frustration as the television interviews we had lined up on Friday morning were dropped for some other breaking news. A real shame as I wanted to highlight the potential for success in Bali (and I was going to wear my colourful “batik” shirt, which was a present from the Indonesians!) on GMTV.

Never mind, the station that matters (BBC Manchester) gave a good round-up and I did a 4 minute interview on Friday’s drive-time show.

I’m writing this on the plane and it is already Monday evening. I’ve read all my briefing and feel well prepared but very nervous………..”fasten your seatbelts!”

Better late than never down under

December 3rd, 2007

Phil Woolas, London, Monday evening: So it’s started - the Bali Conference is officially underway. UK officials are already there working with their counterparts from over 180 countries to prepare the ground for when the Ministers arrive next week. Spoke to Hilary this morning about his visit to India last week, some encouraging signs but it underlined the fact that getting agreement in Bali won’t be easy.

Phil Woolas working in his officeHilary and I had a great meeting this morning with the environmental and development NGOs and BINGOs (there’s a new acronym for you - the Business and Industry NGOs - nothing to do with two little ducks!) to discuss what we want to achieve in Bali. Government, Business and NGOs are all working really closely together to try and get the international agreement we need. It’s a great thing to be a part of - and there’s not many areas of policy it happens in!

The newspapers are full of Bali today. I read in the Telegraph that my hotel is very lavish - that’s the first I’ve heard. I don’t think they realise that it’s rainy season in Bali this time of year. That’s why it’s happening there, now. There’s no tourists - and lots of spare hotel rooms. I also think it’s odd that there’s never any mention in the papers of how many journalists are going - many more British journos than UK Government officials!

The Australians ratified the Kyoto agreement this morning - technically they are signatories already having signed up in 1997 but they decided not to ratify at the time. Don’t forget these agreements have to get through the respective Parliaments as well as being agreed by the Governments. Bill Clinton for example signed up but the Senate wouldn’t ratify. This is one of the reasons why we need two years between the agreement (if we get one in Copenhagen in 2009) and the start date in 2012.

Last minute travel plans are being arranged - all Government air travel is off-set but thank goodness I’ve got the offfice to help me. If it were down to me I’d probably forget my passport!

Anticipation building…

November 30th, 2007

Phil Woolas, Friday 10.30am, back in Oldham. It’s getting really exciting now. Hilary Benn is in India for the final round of pre Bali lobbying. Tremendous boost today from Prince Charles. His Corporate Leader’s Group have come out strongly in favour of taking action now to tackle climate change. This group includes some of the world’s biggest companies - e.g. Tesco, Nike, Nokia. Also heard Roger Harrabin on the Today programme this morning setting the scene for Bali. He made the point that the meeting is the annual UN Conference on Climate Change. That’s right. Bali is not just a one-off but part of a process.

Hectic day yesterday. Started early with a business breakfast in the city - investors looking for certainty and wanting to know which technologies to back. Then down to Westminster to meet with the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. Lots of people there keen to find out what we think we can achieve in Bali. Colin Challen MP very effectively chairs the group. He promotes the policy of Contraction and Convergence to reduce emissions.

Also had a great meeting with Toyota Europe. They are the world leader in hybrid cars and their plans for powering cars in the future are mind blowing. It gives me real confidence that we will see the step change in vehicle technology we need. My own Government car is a Toyota Prius, which I’m getting used to.

As I’m writing this (10.43am) Greenpeace are on the television - apparently they’ve sent us a memo ahead of Bali. This is so fast moving it’s difficult to keep up with!

Our team arrive in Bali on Monday to start the preparations…

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