G8+5: Numbers Don’t Add Up For Climate Change

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 08,

G8+5: Numbers Don’t Add Up For Climate Change




THE G8 Summit held in Heiligendamm, Germany on June
6-7, 2007 had climate change as a focal theme. The German Chancellor Angela
Merkel, currently holding the rotating presidency of the EU, had held out high
expectations from the meeting, coming as it did soon after the release of the
latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which had
reiterated the science of global warming and warned of catastrophic consequences
unless immediate action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The
extended so-called G8+5 meeting with leaders from major emerging economies,
China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa – all currently major GHG emitters
but exempt from emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Treaty – had raised
the hype even further. Chancellor Merkel had even hinted that some major
breakthrough was in the offing with the USA, the biggest emitter and leading
environmental rogue state, represented at the summit by president George W Bush
who had led the US out of the Kyoto Treaty in 2001 and who had since
persistently refused to recognise even the reality of climate change.


However, as expected by those familiar with the state
of play in climate change negotiations, the outcome was a damp squib, certainly
in relation to the hyped expectations raised by Merkel and British PM Tony Blair
who was keen to leave office on a high note.




Germany and the UK were keen to push for an ambitious
target of reducing global GHG emissions by 50 per cent below 1990 levels by
2050, the former with some fond if unrealistic hopes of getting at least some
kind of commitment from the G8 and, in the European way of thinking, setting an
example for major developing countries to follow suit with some commitments of
their own. The UK knew well that the Bush administration would not agree to
binding targets but was hoping to persuade the G5 to come on board and leverage
that to get the US to re-enter the Kyoto process. In the lead-up to the summit,
Japan issued a call for a similar target of 50 per cent reductions by 2050 but,
wary of the known US response to binding targets, quickly qualified that as
representing only “a non-binding vision”. Yet even these timid hopes were belied
yet again.


The G8 Summit Declaration did indeed contain a large
section on climate change. Angela Merkel claimed this was the breakthrough she
had been working towards since the US had signed on to the statement which said
“science has more clearly demonstrated that climate change is a long term
challenge”, that the G8 including the US “firmly agree that resolute and
concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions”, and that “the UN climate process is the appropriate
forum for negotiating future global action on climate change.” But the
phraseology was so loaded with ifs and buts, and hedged with generalised wishes
rather than concrete pledges of action, that it was clear the US had succeeded
in watering down the Declaration till it said precious little and committed the
leading industrialised countries, particularly the US, to nothing.


Far from agreeing to binding targets, the Declaration
only says that the G8 countries would “consider seriously the decisions made by
the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global
emissions by 2050” and that “further action should be based on the UNFCCC
principle [note not targets] of common but differentiated responsibilities and
respective capabilities”.


No wonder the Declaration was greeted by howls of
derision. Former US vice president Al Gore, whose documentary film on climate
change “An Inconvenient Truth” not only won him an Oscar but has also won him
more acclaim than he received as the Democratic candidate who could not
decisively defeat George W Bush in 2000, savaged the G8 summit as “a disgrace
disguised as an achievement”. Gore sarcastically noted that the eight most
powerful nations of earth had been unable to do anything except to say “We had
good conversations and we agreed that we will have more conversations, and we
will even have conversations about the possibility of doing something in the
future on a voluntary basis perhaps!”




Indeed the Bush administration’s tactics appeared to
be just that, keep talking and pretending to be negotiating, but effectively do
nothing. And do everything possible to sabotage any global agreement.


A week before the Summit president Bush called for and
offered to host a series of conferences of leading emitter nations including
China and India, Japan and the EU, for discussions on practical steps everybody
could take on climate change. Implicit of course was the notion that the Kyoto
Treaty was impractical since it set targets that could not be met, did not bring
major developing countries into its orbit and above all did not appeal to the
US. The move was lauded in the G8 Declaration and promptly hailed by Tony Blair:
“The possibility is here, therefore, for the first time, of getting a global
deal on climate change, with substantial cuts in emissions and everyone in on
the deal.”


“By the end of next year, America and other nations
will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases,” Bush said.
“I’ve recommitted myself today that the United States will be actively involved,
if not taking the lead, in a post-Kyoto framework, a post-Kyoto agreement. I
view our role as a bridge between people in Europe and others in India and


While playing its usual role of trying to set up
parallel US-led multilateral forums, in this case an environmental “coalition of
the willing”, and undermining truly international ones under the UN framework,
the US was playing its other favourite role, of forcing changes in the
Declaration that would render it toothless.


Leaked draft documents and administration sources
revealed, in the Washington Post as early as the first week of May, that during
pre-Summit private meetings, the US was doing all it could to undermine the text
of the Declaration. It succeeded in striking out phrases such as that “tackling
climate change is an imperative, not a choice”, or that reducing global
greenhouse gas emissions was necessary in order to “sustain our common basis of
living” (amended to “increase energy security”) and even calls for
energy-efficiency goals such as a commitment that “we will increase the energy
efficiency of our economies so that energy consumption by 2020 will be at least
30 per cent lower compared to a business-as-usual scenario.”




For those looking for silver linings around the cloud,
it was clear that Bush, under increasing pressure domestically, now wants to at
least sound as if he is trying to do something about climate change, not denying
its very existence or the very real threat to life on this planet. The body of
public opinion within the US, cutting across political parties and across organs
of government, is swinging inexorably towards urgent action on climate change.
One sign of the change in political climate in the US, and perhaps a sign of
things to come after the next presidential elections, was the pre-Summit talks
on climate change with Chancellor Merkel by a Congressional delegation led by
House Speaker (Democratic) Nancy Pelosi.


12 states in the US, including Republican controlled
California and New York, and more than 100 local bodies, have already adopted
stringent automobile and other emission norms in defiance of the federal
government and seeking to bring the US in line with, sometimes even ahead of,
international norms and the Kyoto targets in particular. These state
legislations were challenged by the federal Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) under pressure from the automobile and power industries, arguing that the
Clean Air Act does not permit the enforced regulation of emissions, that the
man-made global warming resulting from GHG emissions has not been scientifically
proved and that actions in the US would not solve the problems caused by
emissions from China and India. One can almost see Bush dictating the arguments!


In response, these states and other public interest
bodies filed suit in mid-2006 against the federal government. In a landmark
judgement earlier this year, the US Supreme Court, packed with conservative
judges hand-picked by Bush, handed down a stunning verdict. The court ruled that
that the Clean Air Act was indeed meant for regulation of emissions, that the
science of global warming was indisputable, that emissions by other countries
could not be used as an excuse for inaction by the US, and called upon the EPA
to reverse its position and permitted different states to adopt the stringent
California emission norms till new federal norms are notified. The California
law, for instance, requires reduction of emissions from new vehicles by 25 per
cent in 2009 rising to 30 per cent in 2016.


Bush is surely feeling the heat!




But the US is not the only bad boy here. The EU has
been painting itself as the good guy, mostly banking on the positive steps taken
by Germany, Britain and a very few other countries. These few have reduced
emissions substantially, considerably more than required under Kyoto, but the EU
as a whole is woefully below its target. Japan which is now calling for 50 per
cent reductions, was set a target of 6 per cent reduction under Kyoto but,
despite higher energy efficiencies making it the world’s most energy-efficient
nation, its emissions were 14 per cent higher than in 1990! With friends like
these who needs enemies?


Climate scientists and many environmental campaigners
believe that the EU and G8 summit’s target of 50 per cent reductions by 2050 are
too little too late, and have called for reductions of up to 90 per cent and a
major switch to a non-carbon economy.


It is not, however, only poor compliance with emission
targets by advanced economies that cause concern. Their entire approach,
especially with respect to developing countries, as spelled out in the G8
Declaration is questionable, and reeks of neo-colonial attitudes and attempts at
economic domination.


The Declaration is full of techno-fix solutions and
market mechanisms, despite the UNFCC’s emphasis on regulation and on the proven
success of regulations in Britain and Germany. The Declaration, which seeks to
appeal to major developing countries such as China and India, reads like the
agenda of a rich countries’ club, often shamelessly advancing their own cause
and being hypocritically holier-than-thou. It speaks of new low-emission
technologies for power generation but technology transfer to developing
countries only for plant renovation and modernisation. After decades of
rapacious exploitation by European and American MNCs, it expresses a sudden
concern for sudden concern for “sustainable natural resource use” in
resource-rich countries especially in Africa, barely managing to disguise
anxiety at a perceived threat from China in striking major mineral extraction


The Declaration places a major emphasis on
intellectual property rights (IPR) in a section with the give-away title
“Intellectual property protection as the backbone of innovation”. As the whole
world has seen, especially in life-saving drugs and in AIDS treatment, patents
are becoming the single biggest obstacle to maximising the public benefit from
advances in science and technology, and are poised to repeat this in climate
change as well. Calling for a “new dialogue on innovation and intellectual
property protection” is just another way of trying to maintain monopoly rights
even if this means slowing down or preventing worldwide adoption of better
technologies. If climate change is to be tackled in a meaningful, urgent and
truly global manner, innovations in relevant areas of power generation, carbon
capture and sequestration, new fuels etc ought to be freely shared and costs if
any should be covered by the advanced countries.




Against this background, it is hardly a surprise that
the major developing countries rejected outright the call by the advanced
capitalist countries to join in binding emission reduction targets. Developing
countries have a right to wait and see if the advanced countries actually meet
their obligations, before committing themselves to action. G8 nations are
responsible for over 80 per cent of the GHGs accumulated in the atmosphere since
industrialisation and still emit over 45 per cent of all global emissions. The
point is of course valid, but continued inaction or a business-as-usual stance
may no longer be the answer.


China, which is poised to overtake the US as the
world’s largest emitter, asserted that it would not sacrifice its development at
this stage. But at the same time, China has announced a detailed 72-point action
plan to tackle energy efficiency with a target of reducing carbon-intensity of
GDP by 25 per cent.


India has appointed a high-powered committee to go
into the issue and make recommendations. Hopefully, these will be more
substantial than the assurances given by prime minister Manmohan Singh to
Chancellor Merkel. With an unsuspected sense of humour, and surely with tongue
firmly in cheek, Dr Singh promised that India’s per capita emissions would not
be allowed to exceed that of the advanced countries! Chancellor was surprisingly
pleased by this assurance, but others will no doubt see that this is an
impossible eventuality in any case! Indians will be hoping that this does not
mean that our government will not do anything to address the sharp inequality in
energy consumption within India, with the poor consuming less than a tenth of
the national average, which is what of course contributes to low per capita
energy consumption. Perhaps Dr Singh would like to revisit the issue when his
government succeeds in raising per capita incomes!