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

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 China.”

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 deals.

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!