This is what a climate-change deal looks like

George W. Bush stencilAdmittedly, the agreed-upon wording on climate change from the G8 leaders meeting in Germany is not what climate-change activists would like. Here’s the full communiqué (PDF), courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, and the climate-related stuff starts in paragraph 40, page 13.

The backdrop is that the United States went into the talks on climate change wanting the world’s 15 biggest greenhouse-gas emitters to start talks on cutting their emissions, said talks to take just long enough to get George W. Bush the heck out of office.

The Europeans, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel (the host of the summit) wanted firm wording on a deal committing the rich developed countries to a 50-per-cent cut in their emissions by 2050, which is more or less what most scientific experts on the subject say is needed to keep the earth’s climate from going more blooey than we’re prepared to handle.

The Americans wanted a unique set of talks; the Europeans wanted something basically run by the UN, which has an elaborate set of processes and organizations that have been working on climate change for a long time, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change we’ve heard so much about.

Between them, they came out with this:

We are therefore committed to taking strong and early action to tackle climate change in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Taking into account the scientific knowledge as represented in the recent (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports, global greenhouse gas emissions must stop rising, followed by substantial global emission reductions.

In setting a global goal for emissions reductions in the process we have agreed today involving all major emitters, we will consider seriously the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050.

and

We acknowledge that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action on climate change. We are committed to moving forward in that forum and call on all parties to actively and constructively participate in the UN Climate Change Conference in Indonesia in December 2007 with a view to achieving a comprehensive post 2012-agreement (post Kyoto-agreement) that should include all major emitters.

So the Europeans got a commitment to the UN and an acknowledgment that this is a big deal we all need to do something about. The Americans got no firm commitment to any particular number. Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others, call this a “huge success.”

The commentary at Gristmill is pretty reflective of the most common sentiment out there:

This is obviously making the best of a bad situation, returning to their expectant publics with something rather than nothing. But make no mistake: other than a vague acknowledgment of the problem and the need to cut some emissions, at some point, somehow, the U.S. basically gave the rest of the world the finger yet again.

I’d say this isn’t really true. Maybe the U.S. stuck its tongue out. But consider the significance of George W. Bush agreeing, in public, that climate change is a serious problem that requires change of the magnitude this communiqué contemplates, even vaguely.

These G8 declarations aren’t legally enforceable, anyway. On the other Big Topic the G8 leaders are discussing, aid to Africa, the biggest topic of discussion is how they’ve all basically done nothing on the commitments they made at the last summit in Scotland two years ago. Remember that one, with Bono and Bob Geldof wandering around the heavily guarded hotel hectoring all the politicians into doubling their foreign-aid contributions? And then saying things like this?

“A mountain has been climbed here,” Bono said. “But it’s worth just stopping for a second and looking back down the valley at where we’ve all come. Doubling aid for Africa has not been easy, and it’s been a very hard sell for us salesmen. And I’m very proud to report that these figures are very meaningful.”

Well, it ain’t happening. And that was a short-term commitment made by people who knew Bono and Bob Geldof would be back hectoring them within two years. A commitment coming due in 43 years — that’s a minimum of six U.S. presidents from now, and if we go back 43 years we get to 1964 and Lyndon B. Johnson presiding over a United States still in agony over the assassination of JFK — is not significantly more meaningful than no commitment at all.

So on the particular number, well, whatever. Think hard on the fact that George W. Bush signed off on a statement that says this:

We are … committed to taking strong and early action to tackle climate change in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Taking into account the scientific knowledge as represented in the recent IPCC reports, global greenhouse gas emissions must stop rising, followed by substantial global emission reductions.

Now read it again. Bush signed off on it.

The terms of the debate have changed. The G8 summit didn’t make that happen, but it did bring the change out in the open.

(Photo credit: “Cowboy George W Bush – Glebe, Sydney,” Flickr/Toots Fontaine.)

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One response to “This is what a climate-change deal looks like

  1. Pingback: Victoria E :: Writer, Model, Environmentalist » Blog Archive » Carnival of the Green #81

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