G8 summit recycles empty climate promise

July 11, 2009

If we had a solar thermal power plant for every time a world summit has declared a "historic consensus" on climate change, we'd be well on the way to winning a safe climate. Unfortunately, the only consensus to emerge from the recent Group of Eight (G8) summit in Italy was to talk big on climate action while doing practically nothing about it.

US President Barack Obama said: "The G8 nations came to an historic consensus towards concrete goals to reduce carbon emissions." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also said the G8 climate deal was "historic".

Australian PM Kevin Rudd was slightly more sober, yet he still said it was "important to see the G8 resolve to move towards a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050", said ABC Online on July 9.

They were referring to a joint statement issued on July 9 by 17 of the world's most polluting countries, including Australia. The statement pledged to work to cut global emissions in half by 2050. To meet this goal, the richest countries promised to cut emissions by 80%.

Despite Obama, Brown and Rudd's rhetoric, the statement's goals are the opposite of "concrete". The only sense it can be considered "historic" is that we've heard vacant promises like this before.

The 2008 G8 summit made the exact same pledge to cut total world emissions by 50% by 2050. At both summits, no agreed start date was given to measure the emission cuts against, rendering the promise meaningless.

In most cases, recycling is a sound ecological principle. But the G8's recycling of last year's Clayton's climate policy is a great danger to people and planet.

The G8 normally involves the top eight developed economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, and the US. On July 9, it was expanded to include a further nine nations from the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.
The 17 countries combined make up about 80% of the world's total greenhouse emissions.

The statement described climate change as "one of the greatest challenges of our time" and "recognise[d] the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2°C".

"Developed countries, like my own, have a historic responsibility to take the lead", Obama said on July 9.

However, on the same day, Sanjay Suri wrote in Ipsnews.net that the G8 outcome, which set a target 40 years into the future without setting any interim targets, "should get environmentalists worried about any outcome in [the world climate talks in] Copenhagen" in December.

"It was a declaration of words, not numbers", said Suri on July 9. "It included no commitments, no requirements for anyone on how much should be cut in terms of emissions and when."

The meaninglessness of the G8 summit's climate policy was exposed in the days following the declaration. The Canadian government announced the emissions cut goal was merely "aspirational". China and India said the 50% target was too high.

Rudd has also sought to downplay the agreement. The ALP government's policy is for a 60% cut by 2050 — well below what climate scientists argue is needed to prevent runaway climate change.

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