Flashbacks at Bali

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Walking into the Bali Convention Center, you know that you have become a fixture in the world of international sustainable development when the UN security guard welcomes you with a broad smile and a "how have you been." You swore as a younger woman and an activist you would never become one of those grey haired incrementalists around the negotiating halls.

And then you look around and you see your old friends, all with traces of grey at the temples, reporting, representing UN agencies, working the trade agenda, running think tanks, hanging out on the west coast of the US with other ageing activists and having fun being still irreverent, or slightly proud that Michael Crichton may have based his caricature of the evilly powerful NGO on you.

Looking around you see a remarkable repository of knowledge, not just of the substance of the negotiations, but of the social anthropology of summitry. Of the personal that makes up the political and the history of institutions, a history that often impedes collaboration and undermines trust.

And you still wonder why: why is it that when each institution, each agency, most NGOs, are all funded and supported by the same governments, they split hairs and dance on the head of a pin. The governments that support and make up this sustainable development industry statements are differently nuanced in Bali than they are in Geneva, or Washington or New York. Nuanced, no, they are inconsistent. In Washington they want coal fired power stations and large hydro, but in Bali no. Internationally they are greener than green, but at home they may live from tar sands. Most of all, as the world changes the top ten relevance list has changed and some have a hard time moving on.

And then you flip between CNN and BBC on the resort hotel room television and there is Al Gore, accepting the prize, and tears prick the back of your eyes, as he calls for taxation on pollution rather than income, and you are immediately back in the Forum Global in Flamengo Park, 40 miles from the convention center in Rio at the Earth Summit, when Al Gore, younger, no grey was saying the same thing. And you hope, you hope that all of this, the last 15 years, you hope that you are helping.


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

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