The G8 Summit: Cutting Through the Spin


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Given the Bush administration's involvement -- or "non"-involvement, if you prefer -- it was no big surprise to see the latest G8 summit fail to make any real progress on the issue of GHG emission targets. Sure, Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda got the participants to "commit" to a 50% cut by 2050 (a target even President Bush agreed to seriously consider). And, yes, it may be that this pledge will help pave the way for a more significant breakthrough at the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen next year.

In many ways, however, this agreement in fact marks a giant leap backward for the G8 -- both at the level of current emission targets and future ones.This is the argument Walden Bellow, a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, makes in his latest piece (emphasis mine):

The 25-40% reduction from 1990 emission levels by 2020 that could have been adopted in Bali grew out of a developing consensus. Based on the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this consensus holds that preventing global mean temperature from rising above the critical threshold of 2 degrees centigrade in the 21st century will require radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 80-90% by 2050. The 25-40% reductions were an intermediate target on the path to achieving this goal. The G8 "commitment" of about half this final target is grossly inadequate.

Several other considerations highlight the dangers of the Washington-driven formula First, the G8 proposes a global cut, not one that would be undertaken only by the industrialized or "Annex One" countries. As such, big polluters like the United States can actually free-ride on the rest of the world.

Second, the cut has no clear baseline. When making the announcement, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda initially said the cut was from 1990 levels. Then he had to take back that statement and subsequently mentioned the higher levels of 2000 as the baseline.

Third, this declaration of intent is not binding, and the G8 have given no indication that they want to bring their "pledge" fully under the UN climate negotiations framework that would bind its signatories. Indeed, the G8 announcement reinforces the G8 as a site for climate action that rivals the UN process and effectively subverts it. Not surprisingly, the G8 declaration emerged as part of a parallel process known as the "Major Economies Meeting." The Major Economies Meeting is a U.S. initiative to wrest decision-making on climate from the UN framework and process.


U.S. not the only culprit: Japan, Canada and the EU share in the blame
Bello also makes the point that the U.S. hardly stands alone in its role as climate change villain. Countries like Japan, though they may be sounding the right notes, are quickly retreating from their past commitments (or taking the easy way out). The EU has largely skirted of significant emission cuts -- choosing instead to place its eggs in the biofuel basket (a terrible policy we've written about at some length).

One step forward, two steps back
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently called for a massive expansion of the country's nuclear energy capacity while Germany's Angela Merkel continues to embrace dirty coal. Basically, Bello says, world leaders have either backtracked on their (once) ambitious plans or opted for messy quick fixes -- or risky, more complex "techno-fixes" like carbon capture and storage (CCS).

So, really, don't believe the hype (if you still do, that is). If this is the best our leaders can accomplish after several years of intense debate and negotiation, then we are in deep trouble. Technological innovation and entrepreneurship, as great as they are, can only carry us so far. Without clear guidance and new regulations, businesses will feel little need to overhaul their wasteful practices, and many will be led to believe that climate change is not as serious a crisis as the IPCC and others have deemed it.

Are drastic sacrifices needed?
While I strongly disagree with Bello's concluding statement that it will take "planned economies with severely regulated markets and profits, strictly controlled consumption, and equitably shared sacrifice to win the war against climate change," I do think we need to reconsider many of our policy priorities and, perhaps most importantly (on an individual basis), our lifestyle choices.

This point is nothing new, of course (heck, we've been making it since TH's inception), and I won't bore you with all the statistics describing how you can make a difference. In light of the current food/energy crisis, however, it seems more urgent than ever that we make many of these hard decisions now to save us more trouble down the line.

Via ::Foreign Policy In Focus: The Anti-Climate Summit (news website)

The G8 on climate change
::G8 Leaders And Climate Change
::Getting the G8 to Square Up to the Climate Crisis
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