G8's Camp David Declaration Supports Climate Change Action While Not Acknowledging Its Source

Taras Kalapun/CC BY 2.0

As happens at high level meetings such as the recently-concluded G8 meeting at Camp David a concluding declaration was made (appropriately titled the Camp David Declaration). Wide ranging in scope, many environmental issues figure prominently, which entire sections devoted to energy and climate change, food security and nutrition—and plenty of economic talk that has direct environmental implications.

The most striking thing in it, to me, is that while there's plenty of talk about combatting climate change, limiting temperature rise to 2°C, and other noble language, so much of the text only weakly supports that goal or actually works directly against it.

But first, two sections which are undeniably good things:

14. Recognizing the impact of short-lived climate pollutants on near-term climate change, agricultural productivity, and human health, we support, as a means of promoting increased ambition and complementary to other CO2 and GHG emission reduction efforts, comprehensive actions to reduce these pollutants, which, according to UNEP and others, account for over thirty percent of near-term global warming as well as 2 million premature deaths a year.  Therefore, we agree to join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants.

15. In addition, we strongly support efforts to rationalize and phase-out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, and to continue voluntary reporting on progress.

On the first part, though playing second fiddle in the public discussion of combatting climate change, addressing these short-lived climate pollutants is about as close as a silver bullet as there is in slowing warming. We're talking here about black carbon soot, methane, and other pollutants which don't require massive international agreement to phase out or reduce, nor massive investment (at least compared to a wholesale rapid transformation of the entire energy sector). If done properly this is a far bigger step to slowing (if not stopping) the rate of temperature rise, slowing glacier melting, and reducing air pollution, than the blandness of the text indicates. Kudos.

As for the second part, there's hardly meaningful detail there (and surely this is where the devil is, here even more than in general) but phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is a crucially important step in combating climate change, creating a cleaner economy, and breaking the corrupting influence of corporate power. I have a sneaking suspicion that the hurdle in this will be (as it has been) how quickly such a change can be brought about.

Here's the context of all this, and the start of the silliness:

13. We agree to continue our efforts to address climate change and recognize the need for increased mitigation ambition in the period to 2020, with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, consistent with science.  We strongly support the outcome of the 17th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban to implement the Cancun agreements and the launch of the Durban Platform, which we welcome as a significant breakthrough toward the adoption by 2015 of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all Parties, developed and developing countries alike. We agree to continue to work together in the UNFCCC and other fora, including through the Major Economies Forum, toward a positive outcome at Doha.

It's hard to not break out laughing.

"Recognizing the need for increased mitigation ambition..." is perhaps the greatest understatement of the year in climate politics. The fact of the matter is that for all intents and purposes, barring a few notable exceptions, there has been practically zero mitigation ambition among the world's richest nations, particularly in the United States. In fact essentially delaying action until 2020 is itself a sign of this lack of ambition.

"Doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels." It's the right target, but again pretty much everything above this statement in the Declaration makes it harder to the G8 nations doing their part.

While sections 10-12 all deal with energy, and pays lip service to renewable energy, low-carbon energy, etc, there is equal talk of tapping into unconventional sources of fossil fuels, and mealy mouthed language about an all-of-the-above energy strategy. While politically practical, it's scientifically inadequate. There is no recognition that if we're going to keep temperature rise below 2°C (something an increasing number of people believe is, in fact, out of reach at this point) that fossil fuels simply can't be in the mix.

Tags: Energy | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Solutions

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