G8: Rich countries retreat from action on climate change
July 9, 2008 -- The G8's communique regarding their action on climate is actually inaction being masked as movement. It is a great fraud being perpetrated on the global community that would significantly reduce its capacity to contain climate change. We fully agree with the statement of the Government of South Africa that "[W]hile the Statement may appear as a movement forward, we are concerned that it may, in effect, be a regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change." [Click pic for BBC footage of G8 protests.]
Retreat from Bali
The announcement of the agreement among the G8 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally by 50 per cent by 2050 is actually a step back from the minimum action that was demanded by the global community during the United Nations Summit on Climate Change in Bali last December. In Bali, opposition from the US, Japan and Canada almost killed a developing consensus that should commit industrialised (Annex 1) countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. That developing consensus also projected the minimum cut needed by 2050 to be in the range of 80 to 90 per cent if the rise in global temperature was to be kept below 2 degrees centigrade in the 21st century.
The G8's 50 per cent formula is objectionable on several counts:
First, the G8 formula is a global cut, not one undertaken by the industrialised or Annex One countries, so big polluters like the US can actually free-ride on the rest of the world.
Second, the cut has no clear baseline. It was revealing that in announcing it, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda initially said it was from 1990 levels, then had to take back that statement and subsequently mentioned a 2000 baseline.
Third, this declaration of intent is not binding and there is no indication that the G8 want to bring their "commitment" fully under the United Nations climate negotiations framework that would bind its signatories. Indeed, the G8 announcement reinforces the G8 as a site for climate action that rivals the UN process and effectively subverts it. Not surprisingly, the G8 declaration emerged as part of a parallel process known as the "Major Economies Meeting." The Major Economies Meeting is a US initiative to wrest decision-making on climate from the United Nations framework and process.
All in all, the G8 announcement is one giant step away from meaningful mandatory reductions and significantly increases the chances of the planet slipping into uncontrolled climate change.
Supporting the wrong agency
Another setback to the cause of effective climate action was the G8's endorsement of the World Bank's Climate Investment Funds, to which the communique said certain countries had already pledged $6 billion. Civil society groups monitoring the Bank's environment program had already warned the G8 that there are very serious concerns that the funds would be heavily oriented toward funding large-scale coal plants. Without a clear definition of clean technology, the funds may be used to finance projects that do not clearly mitigate climate change or may take up resources that bring only minor or incremental change at a time that fundamental change is needed.
Just as the G8 undermines the UN as the site for climate action, so does the World Bank subvert an already established UN mechanism. An Adaptation Fund under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established in Bali by the Conference of Parties in December 2007 precisely to provide technological assistance to developing countries. Instead of funding this mechanism, the G8 countries may now divert their contributions to the World Bank Climate Investment Funds to maintain control of the process of technology transfer. Not surprisingly, the developing countries have criticized the World Bank mechanism as a threat to serious efforts to assist the global South to deal with climate change.
After failing as a development bank, the World Bank is now trying to create the image that it is the "climate bank''. This is indeed the height of hypocrisy. With $2 billion already spent on coal, oil and gas projects over the last year, the World Bank has broken its own record as the world's largest multilateral financier of greenhouse-emitting energy initiatives. Even as it pretends to deal with climate change with its Climate Investment Funds, the Bank is actually exacerbating it with its massive fossil fuel extraction lending.
We must call a spade a spade. The G8 declaration does not constitute an advance but a step backward in the global community's ability to deal with climate change. Saying that it is better than nothing or that it is realistic given the Bush administration's opposition to significant action is to lend legitimacy to a dangerous charade.
The G8 has once again lived up to its reputation of being an obstacle to the global community's efforts to come to grips with the challenges of our times. We repeat our call to disband this unelected body of rich country governments that acts as if it were the government of the world.
Partial list of endorsers: Attac Japan, CADTM, ESK-Basque Country, Focus on the Global South, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Friends of the Earth International, FSU-France, Institute for Policy Studies-US, Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, Via Campesina.
BANGKOK (July 16) – Over 170 activists who gathered in Bangkok over the weekend harshly criticised governments and corporations for their failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They called for "climate justice" and a "fundamental departure from the curent global order" to solve the climate crisis. Conference participants included fishers and farmers, forest and indigenous peoples, women, youth, workers and non-government activists from 31 countries.
"By climate justice,” participants asserted in a conference document, “we mean that the burden of adjustment to the climate crisis must be borne by those who have created it, and not by those who have been least responsible.”
The conference signalled the growing voice of social movements and civil society groups in Asia on the issue of climate change.
Throughout the three-day conference, participants repeatedly expressed frustration at how governments and corporations, who have thus far dominated the climate discussion, have failed to address the root causes of planet-threatening climate change.
After over 30 workshops and plenary debates, participants reached consensus on their opposition to carbon trading and "offset" schemes, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Development (REDD) program, which allow polluters to buy their way out of reducing emissions.
Participants also rejected industrialized agrofuels, megadams, and nuclear power, saying these “false solutions” will “merely exacerbate the climate crisis and deepen global inequality.”
As a solution, participants insisted that governments must confront the problem of overconsumption, both in developed countries as well as among elites in poorer countries.
The conference heard that while industrialized countries have been responsible for about 90% of historical greenhouse gas emissions, 99% of the risks posed climate change are being borne by people from developing countries.
"Dealing with the climate crisis inevitably involves a fundamental departure from the current global order, and a comprehensive transformation of social, economic, political and cultural relations at the local, national, and global level,” participants concluded.
The conference was hosted by Focus on the Global South, a policy and advocacy group housed at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, together with 24 other co-organizers from around the world. The majority of participants came from Asian countries, but there were also representatives from North America, Europe, Latin America, and Africa.
For more information about the conference, go to www.focusweb.org/climatechange
The Anti-Climate Summit
Tuesday 15 July 2008
by: Walden Bello, Foreign Policy in Focus
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses the press at the G8 conference last week. According to analyst Walden Bello, the "steps forward" on climate change that the G8 leaders agreed upon are actually a "giant step backward." (Photo: Getty Images)
While drafting the so-called Bali Roadmap during the UN Conference on climate change last December, delegates faced a painful choice. They could specifically mention the necessity of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and face the possibility of a U.S. walkout from the negotiations. Or they could drop all mention of targets to keep Washington in the negotiations - and risk of the United States fatally obstructing the process of coming up with a tough regime of mandatory emissions cuts that would have to be in place by the UN's climate meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The delegates went with the latter and appeased Washington by not mentioning any targets. After the declaration on climate issued by the G8 summit a few days ago in Hokkaido, Japan, it is clear that the delegates in Bali made a strategic mistake. The G8's endorsement of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050, which they have presented as a major step forward, is actually, as the South African government put it, a "regression from what is required to make a meaningful contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change."
In fact, "regression" is too polite. The G8 position is a giant step backward. It may have effectively undermined the prospects for an effective global climate strategy for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that is expected to be finalized at the crucial UN meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.
Deconstructing the G8 Position
Given the massive confusion that the G8 climate communique has created globally, it is worthwhile to deconstruct the position in detail.
The 25-40% reduction from 1990 emission levels by 2020 that could have been adopted in Bali grew out of a developing consensus. Based on the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this consensus holds that preventing global mean temperature from rising above the critical threshold of 2 degrees centigrade in the 21st century will require radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 80-90% by 2050. The 25-40% reductions were an intermediate target on the path to achieving this goal. The G8 "commitment" of about half this final target is grossly inadequate.
Several other considerations highlight the dangers of the Washington-driven formula. First, the G8 proposes a global cut, not one that would be undertaken only by the industrialized or "Annex One" countries. As such, big polluters like the United States can actually free-ride on the rest of the world.
Second, the cut has no clear baseline. When making the announcement, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda initially said the cut was from 1990 levels. Then he had to take back that statement and subsequently mentioned the higher levels of 2000 as the baseline.
Third, this declaration of intent is not binding, and the G8 have given no indication that they want to bring their "pledge" fully under the UN climate negotiations framework that would bind its signatories. Indeed, the G8 announcement reinforces the G8 as a site for climate action that rivals the UN process and effectively subverts it. Not surprisingly, the G8 declaration emerged as part of a parallel process known as the "Major Economies Meeting." The Major Economies Meeting is a U.S. initiative to wrest decision-making on climate from the UN framework and process.
Anti-Climate United Front
The G8 climate communiquÈ demonstrates that not only Washington but the other powerful economies of the world are opposed to effective climate action. And without the rich country governments committing themselves to obligatory radical cuts in carbon dioxide levels, it will be impossible to convince China, India, and other rapidly industrializing economies to agree to subject themselves to a mandatory regime in the near future.
With Washington's posture so retrograde, the policies of other developed country governments appear in a more positive light. But this is an illusion. While Washington has been the most visible obstacle to achieving effective action on climate, the obstructionist role of the other advanced industrial countries has not been insignificant. Japan and Canada, for instance, have retreated from their previous support for a regime of mandatory reductions and saved Washington from total isolation in the negotiations.
The European Union, while it continues to support a mandatory regime, does not appear to be willing to support the cuts of up to 80-90% by 2050 that are necessary to prevent irreversible large-scale climate change. In terms of its approach to reducing carbon emissions, the EU, like the United States, has increasingly given a central role to the corporate-friendly market approach of carbon trading. On the critical issue of providing the South with assistance for technology and adaptation, the EU, again like United States, prefers to channel the relatively little money it has so far been willing to commit not through institutional mechanisms set up under UN auspices but through those established by the World Bank, such as the Bank's Climate Investment Funds. The reason is simple: the North controls the World Bank.
Most importantly, like the United States and Japan, the European governments continue to hang on to the position that economic growth can be "decoupled" from energy use. In other words, they think they can maintain current European consumption levels and only have to achieve the more efficient use of energy and replace oil with other energy sources. Thus, the EU has preferred to lull Europeans with panaceas. Brussels has championed biofuels, though its enthusiasm has been dampened somewhat by the increasingly evident negative impact of biofuels on global agricultural production. It has also increasingly come out in support of hard energy alternatives, such as mega-dams and carbon sequestration and storage technology, and has also reopened the discussion on nuclear energy.
A Painless Transition?
The focus on techno-fixes is not limited to the political and economic elites of the North but is shared by key members of its intellectual elite. I'm not talking about people like the Danish climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg but influential opinion-makers like Jeffrey Sachs, who has attempted to transform himself from the author of economic shock therapy in Eastern Europe to a progressive partisan of the struggles to end poverty and to fight global warming. In his latest book Common Wealth, Sachs' message is that technology can make the transition to a clean Green world a relatively painless one, with no major lifestyle change in the North and no change in the high-growth development paradigm in the South. "Rather than focusing, as some environmentalists do, on reducing the income and consumption of the rich world," he asserts, "we should focus much more on raising theÖsustainability of the world's technologies."
For Sachs, the key technology is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) "which will allow the world to continue to use low cost fossil fuels such as coal in a manner that does not wreck the climate." With what can only be described as childlike techno-enthusiasm, Sachs says, "air capture would allow humanity to reverse a previous rise of CO2 by capturing and sequestering more carbon dioxide than is being emitted in any period! Put differently, the best that can be achieved at a power plant is to stop new emissions. With air capture, we could put into reverse what we've done up to this point." That this technology is at least 20 years away from being a practical technology and comes with unknown risks does not enter Sachs' sci-fi scenario.
Capitalism and the Climate Crisis
Herman Daly, the renowned environmentalist, calls this attitude - that environmental action stops when it begins to impinge on the economy - "growthmania." Growthmania, however, goes beyond being a psychological fix. It is a cultivated ideological predisposition that serves as a protective shield for global capitalism. Capitalism is an expansive mode of production, and it can only reproduce itself by continually transforming living nature into dead commodities. This is essentially what growth is all about. This is why ever-increasing consumption is so central to the engine of profitability that drives capitalism.
The G8 - the directorate of global capitalism - is trying hard to avoid just such radical controls on growth, consumption, profits, and the market that a viable strategy to stave off the looming climate catastrophe will necessitate. Voluntary cuts, technofixes, and carbon trading are desperate efforts to prevent the inevitable. Just like the U.S. economy during World War II, it will take planned economies with severely regulated markets and profits, strictly controlled consumption, and equitably shared sacrifice to win the war against climate change.
A columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org), Walden Bello is also senior analyst at the Bangkok-based research and advocacy institute Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines.
Renfrey Clarke 19 July 2008
Soon after Australian government adviser Professor Ross Garnaut presented his draft climate change review on July 4, world leaders gathered in a Japanese mountain resort for an expanded version of the annual G8 summit meeting.
High on the agenda was discussion of a unified stance on halting climate change. But for the fight against global warming, the events that followed boded poorly.
The heads of government of the world’s eight leading developed powers committed themselves to “avoiding the most serious consequences of climate change”. They also agreed to pursue a 50% cut in greenhouse emissions by the year 2050. But the correspondent for the British Independent, for one, was unimpressed.
“There is no detail in the [summit] communique; no medium-term targets; no commitment to agreeing [to] a legally binding successor to the Kyoto protocol at Copenhagen next year”, the paper reported on July 9. “There is not even agreement on the date from which CO2 cuts will be measured.”
US President George Bush’s commitment to the “50 by 2050” formula was reportedly made conditional on participation by China and India, two large emerging contributors to greenhouse pollution. The Australian reported on July 10 that China and India rejected the US demands.
China and India maintain that since the developed countries grew rich emitting the great bulk of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere, the developed world should first show its seriousness by taking important steps toward emissions mitigation.
The cuts offered by the G8 summiteers were not big enough to rate. “The long-term global goal for emissions reductions of 50 per cent by 2050 falls below what is scientifically required to stabilise the atmosphere at a relatively safe level”, the Australian on July 10 quoted South African environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk as pointing out.
Especially among the leaders of the developed world, it seemed, everyone at the meeting wanted their country to be the last lemming over the greenhouse cliff. Statements of alarm at the dangers of global warming were fine, but when it came to sacrificing competitiveness on world markets, the concrete initiatives always needed to be taken by someone else.
Except, some would argue, in the case of Australian PM Kevin Rudd, who took up an invitation to attend part of the summit.
“[T]he cost of responsible action is much less than if we as a planet fail to act on climate change now”, Rudd said on July 9. “The longer we delay, the higher the cost … It would be reckless not to act.”
On the surface, Rudd’s declarations appeared to defy a furious campaign from Australian business leaders to block a 2010 start to the carbon emissions trading scheme foreshadowed in Garnaut’s draft report. Invariably, the corporate CEOs have claimed to support action against climate change, but not ahead of the pack.
A typical statement, cited in the Australian on July 8, came from Peter Coates of the mining firm Xstrata: “We support leadership. What we don’t support is being leaders with no-one following. In other words, if America and India and China do not follow, it is an absolute waste of time and enormously value-destroying.”
What might seem a clash of radically opposed visions, however, might as well have been scripted jointly by Rudd and the resource companies. Both sides have gone to the public with a careful nuance of positions that at their core amount to the same thing: denying the extent and urgency of the changes needed to prevent climate disaster.
Rudd evidently calculates that he cannot lose electorally from striking a pose of boldness and political courage. According to an international survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released in March last year, 92% of Australians polled favoured taking steps to combat global warming. No fewer than 69% viewed global warming as a serious and pressing problem, meriting action even at significant cost.
Labor’s concrete projections for greenhouse abatement, nevertheless, would still send us hurtling lemming-like over the climate precipice. The position, reaffirmed earlier this year by climate change minister Penny Wong, is to call for a reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions of 60% by 2050.
As calculated last year by David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red: The Case for a Sustainability Emergency, the “60 by 2050” position corresponds to an eventual rise in global temperatures of about 3°C by the end of the century. But dramatic new findings released in April by leading US climate scientist James Hansen indicate strongly that the sensitivity of today’s climate to increases in greenhouse gases is much greater than earlier supposed. Even 2°C would be catastrophic. In a speech to the National Press Club in Washington on June 23, Hansen argued: “the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than 2° Celsius … is a recipe for disaster, not salvation.”
Hansen calls for the ending by 2030 of all greenhouse emissions from coal use, combined with a massive reversal of deforestation and widespread sequestration in soils of carbon in the form of biochar. In practice, this would amount to cutting net emissions to near zero within a few decades.
Among lemmings, it is clear, there are various ways to jostle for advantage as the cliff-edge draws nearer. While Rudd strikes an essentially false pose as the principled risk-taker, the business leaders have relished the chance to assume a counter-pose as sober, practical-minded guardians of economic well-being. Even, in some cases, as protectors of jobs.
Sidelining the backsliders
Can the global rush to disaster be stopped? Would even the most resolute action by Australians make a difference?
On the basis of what transpired in and around the G8 summit, the answer has to be “no”, so long as the world’s existing leaders are entrusted with the job. Any solutions have to lie outside the conventional political process.
For Garnaut, trying to reconcile the conflicting interests in the emissions reduction wrangle is a “diabolical” task, in which success is elusive and perhaps impossible. Garnaut, however, is very much a creature of the economic-rationalist think-tanks and the Canberra bureaucracy. He clearly finds it impossible to imagine masses of people entering directly into political action, sidelining the governments that act for the coal bosses and energy privateers.
Can a mass movement of such scope and power be built in Australia? No-one can argue that the stakes are insufficient, or that a basic awareness of the greenhouse danger is lacking. How would such a movement enforce its will? Making greenhouse backsliders unelectable would be one element in its practice. Other elements could include strikes, boycotts and mass civil disobedience.
Would the successes of such a movement be irrelevant, when global greenhouse emissions are dominated not by Australia, but by the earlier-mentioned US, China and India? Certainly not. The rise of such a movement, anywhere, would amount to a global political bombshell.
Even in China? The suggestion that mass struggles in Australia could not influence developments in China is implicitly racist. Do people in China somehow not care about the fate of their children? Moreover, this suggestion betrays an ignorance of the popular struggles already generated in China by the country’s appalling environmental problems.
To gauge the potential for a mass activist movement against global warming to spread internationally, and specifically to China, it is time to return to the 2007 Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey.
Organising and agitation
Eighty per cent of the people polled in China, compared to 85% in the US, recognised global warming as an important threat. Thirty-three per cent viewed it as a critical danger. An impressive 42%, almost identical to the 43% in the US, saw the issue as worthy of action involving significant cost.
This is an ample base for mass organising and agitation. In the context of a popular, expanding world struggle against global warming, could China’s “communist” leaders succeed in crushing a mass protest movement? That is very much an open question.
Meanwhile, the Chicago survey has more. “If the developed countries are willing to provide substantial aid”, it asks at one point, “do you think the less-developed countries should make a commitment to limit their greenhouse gas emissions?” To this, 79% of respondents in China answered “yes”.
The obverse of this question, posed in the US, yielded equally intriguing results. Should developed countries, respondents were asked, provide “substantial aid” to less developed countries that made a commitment to limit their greenhouse gas emissions? Sixty four per cent of those polled agreed that developed countries should do just that.
The question of how to stop global warming thus takes on a fundamentally different cast from the contorted shape it assumes in mainstream commentaries. If the US and its allies were to take, say, a few trillion dollars from the cost of their wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and use it to help developing countries reduce their greenhouse emissions, the key problems would likely be quite soluble. Governments in developing countries would be content, and legislators in the US could count on re-election.
No-one, however, should hold their breath. To stop climate change, the road we must pursue is that of mass popular struggle. The primary obstacle ahead is not “China and India”, but the coal-gouging, war-waging ruling classes of countries like the US and Australia.