The opening sentence of the four-paragraph section on the environment in the G8 Summit final communiqué reads: “Among environmental issues, climate change remains top of mind.” While climate change may be at the top of G8 leaders’ minds–or on the tip of their tongues–it is not at the top of their to-do lists.
After climate change received only brief attention at the G20 and G8 meetings last fall in Pittsburgh, some thought this year’s meetings in Toronto could be different. But the meetings, which concluded on Sunday, were dominated by issues related to security and the economy.
Environmental groups activists seem disappointed that no new initiatives or specific actions were announced that might indicate any sense of urgency among the G8 leadership on climate.
Groups like WWF and Greenpeace say that climate change and the strategies for addressing it are inextricably linked to global security and economic development.
“The G8 communiqué is a complete deja vu of what we saw in earlier G8 meetings and latest in Copenhagen. Not much vision here,” said Kim Carstensen of WWF Global Climate Initiative.
The final G8 communiqué reiterated support for the Copenhagen Accord and the role it plays in the UNFCCC negotiations. “We urge those countries that have not already done so to associate themselves with the Accord and list their mitigation commitments and actions,” the document reads.
The G8 countries–France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and Canada–are the biggest historical emitters of greenhouse gases. All eight have “associated” with the Copenhagen Accord, the non-binding agreement reached at the UN talks in Copenhagen late in 2009.
The G8 document went on to lend support to “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.”
It also reiterated the UNFCCC goal for all countries of achieving at least a 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050 as well as the goal of developed countries reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80% or more by 2050, compared to 1990 “or more recent” levels.
But the G8’s preferred means of accomplishing those emissions reductions targets did little to impress Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. Calling for large-scale research and development of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects, the communique stressed the importance of yet-to-be-proven technological fixes like utility-scale CCS.
“The G8 leaders have chosen to distract themselves with the false solutions of carbon capture and storage, nuclear power and biofuels. I see no leadership here, the G8 has failed again,” said Mr. Naidoo.
G20 Focuses on Global Debt Crisis
If the G8 was about security, the G20 was about the global economy. Similar to what is found in G8 document, in terms of scope and prioritization, the G20 Summit Declaration does not approach environmental issues until late in the document. Once again, support is given for the ongoing UNFCCC process and the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” adopted in the Copenhagen Accord.
But not every one of the G20 countries has “associated” with the Copenhagen Accord, a fact that was apparent in the language of the Declaration.
“Those of us who have associated with the Copenhagen Accord reaffirm our support for it and its implementation and call on others to associate with it,” the document reads.
The only two countries in the G20 that have still not associated with the Copenhagen Accord are Turkey and Saudi Arabia, according to the Climate Action Network.
G20 leaders did not agree on a plan to end fossil fuel subsidies (an idea that had been kicked around in previous meetings), they did “note with appreciation the report on energy subsidies [from the IEA, OPEC, OECD and World Bank].” G20 leaders also agreed with developing timeframes and national strategies for the phasing out of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Finally, in another short environmental section, the G-20 Declaration addressed the BP oil spill, recommending more sharing of best practices to prevent future such disasters.
The G20/G8 Summits: A Canadian Agenda?
Greenpeace’s International’s Naidoo was critical of the agenda set by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As representative of the host nation and current president of the G8, Stephen Harper played the leading role in setting the agenda for both the G8 and G-20 summits.
“I don’t think Prime Minister Stephen Harper has provided leadership on the climate question at all,” Naidoo charged. “If anything, he has held it back.”
In light of the stepped-up security and clashes between police and certain groups of radical protestors, perhaps Cassie Barker of Tcktcktck’s Fresh Air Center says it best when she writes, “If governments, say Canada’s, can prioritize over a billion dollars – a billion! – for a week of tackling protesters, why can’t they find the political will to tackle the real problems and solutions facing the planet?
Article by Timothy Hurst, founding editor of Ecopolitology and executive editor of the LiveOAK Network, appearing courtesy Celsias.