As the Bali negotiations enter their second week, the relaxed atmosphere is changing as disagreements sharpen between the parties and major blocs.

We are in the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” phase, as the main blocs work towards an agreement on the terms for a new negotiating process. The process would lead, all going well, to a post-Kyoto global treaty being agreed in Copenhagen in two years’ time.

On Saturday we saw the first draft of the key document, the so-called “non-paper” prepared by the group working on long-term cooperative action, which ought to form the core of a Bali Mandate.

The arduous process of agreeing to every word and phrase began yesterday, and ministers will take over from officials on Wednesday.

If agreement is reached at the end of the week it will be a good sign that the world is determined to get a new global agreement. But the extent to which the terms of the mandate are watered down will signal the strength of opposition to a strong replacement for Kyoto.

The agreement is expected to include much deeper cuts from developed countries and some form of additional commitments from developing countries.

This trade-off between emission reduction targets for rich countries and some form of commitments from developing countries is at the heart of the Bali conference and any post-2012 agreement. It is a high-wire act like no other, made more difficult by a history of suspicion, and new forms of eco-bastardry being practised, by Canada in particular.

Australia could play a brokering role as long as our newly-forged reputation as a responsible international citizen is not tarnished. Some of the media reports have not been helpful for the Rudd Government or for the success of the Bali conference. Forcing Kevin Rudd to repudiate the 25-40% emission reduction target by 2020 was not clever. There is a world of difference between Australia endorsing a scientific report saying that 25-40% cuts by Annex 1 (developed) countries are necessary to avoid dangerous climate change, and the Australian Government committing to reduce Australia’s emissions by somewhere in that range.

And when Trade Minister Simon Crean said here that some form of commitment would be needed from developing countries for a workable post-2012 treaty to emerge, this was beaten up into Australia demanding “tough emission cuts from” China and India. This is exactly what the more reluctant developing countries fear is the hidden agenda of rich countries. Tough demands may make good headlines but they damage prospects for progress. That’s the challenge for the media this week.

We are in a process of trust-building. Almost everyone is working hard to avoid outbreaks of open hostility which could cause it all to fall apart
or revert to the lowest level of consensus, which has happened at previous COPs.

So the journalistic instinct to find and exploit conflict may be good for newspaper sales but it’s antithetical to the success of this conference.