By Michelle Pressend · 15 Jul 2008
The three day G8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan ended with disappointing outcomes on climate change commitments from the most powerful countries in the world.
The G8’s communiqué on environment and climate change released on 8 July 2008 reconfirmed the significance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and recognised the need for a 50 percent reduction in global emissions by 2050. However this commitment is a far cry from the developing countries consensus in Bali which projected that the minimum cut needed by 2050 would be in the range of 80 to 90 percent to prevent the global temperature rising above 2°C (degrees centigrade).
Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, in his statement on 9 July 2008 expressed concerns about the low levels of ambition demonstrated by the G8, arguing that “the G8’s proposal for a long term global goal for emission reductions of 50% by 2050 is without a base year and without mid-term targets. We would argue that this proposal does not meet the required-by-science criteria. It is based on the lowest common denominator in the G8 grouping...”
In the last fifty years, the earth’s temperature has been rising and is currently 0.74°C hotter than it was a hundred years ago. Currently, if just carbon dioxide is considered, there are 380 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. However, if other greenhouse gases (GHGs) referred to as 'carbon dioxide equivalents' (CO2e) are included, it leaves us with less than a decade before we pass the 400ppm mark.
Current knowledge indicates that 400ppm is the danger mark at which the earth's average temperature will rise to 2°C, creating a climate catatsrophe.
From our current position, we don’t have too far to go before this level of GHGs will be floating around our atmosphere. We are certainly doomed to reach this level if the G8 continues with its ‘business as usual’ scenario, which it unfortunately is doing.
While the world is already experiencing the devastating impact of climate change by way of increased natural disasters and extreme weather conditions leading to more floods, drought, crop failure and a rise in sea levels - the most powerful countries in world historically responsible for causing climate change, are reneging on their commitments.
The Kyoto Protocol was a compromise agreement committing industrialised countries to legally binding targets to reduce their combined emissions during a five year period (2008 – 2012) to below 1990 levels.
In reality, in many of these countries, emissions have increased since the inception of the Kyoto Protocol. The US who was instrumental in proposing the carbon trading idea, has still not signed the Kyoto Protocol.
The civil society G8 Communiqué on Climate Change highlights several loopholes on the G8’s 50 percent cut formula. They point out that the G8’s proposal demand a global cut in emissions - not just one undertaken by industrialised countries. As a result, big polluters like the US continue to free-ride on the rest of the world instead of taking responsibility for historical and current emissions.
The G8 declaration has also not agreed to a baseline year and appears to be reneging from 1990 levels.
Lastly, the declaration may undermine the United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations framework since there is no indication that the G8 wants to bring their "commitment" under the UN framework that would bind all its signatories. Instead, the G8 supports a parallel process by subverting funds to the World Bank and other initiatives outside of the UN.
The G8 endorsed the World Bank Climate Investment Fund. Some G8 countries have already pledged US$6 billion, whereas the Adaptation Fund under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set up to provide technology assistance to developing countries, remains poorly funded.
Not only is the World Bank’s governing structure biased towards rich countries where voice and decision-making power is dependent on a country’s contribution, but it continues to subsidise and support the fossil fuel industry.
End Oil Aid, which agues that for more than 25 years wealthy countries have been using aid and other foreign assistance to subsidize the expansion of the international oil industry, show that the World Bank’s support for fossil extraction increased 93% in 2006 compared to 2005. It’s lending for fossil fuels increased at a rate exceeding that of renewable technologies.
According to End Oil Aid, in 2005 the World Bank Group and American Agencies such as the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation provided finances worth more than US$3 billion to the international oil and gas industry.
So the question remains, why are rich countries determined to set up parallel climate change and technology funds when these vehicles already exist in the UN? Is it because they want to continue to have more say and control over their investments in climate change technology and need to ensure growth in these sectors and optimum returns?
The current market-based solutions: carbon trading, planting trees in one country to offset carbon emission from another, providing energy-efficient light bulbs or solar stoves in poorer nations, implementing energy efficient projects in one country in order for an industry in another country to continue to pollute, amongst other 'innovative' ways of addressing climate change, contribute to delays in the actual or real reduction of carbon emissions needed to stabilise the earth’s temperature.
George Monibiot hits the nail on the head when says: "Buying and selling carbon offsets is like pushing the food around your plate to create the impression you’ve eaten it."
However, it is apparent from the G8 summit that world leaders are bent on market-based solutions even though the current forms and patterns of production in developed and developing countries, requiring the ever increasing consumption of global resources, are fundamentally unsustainable creating massive and growing social and environmental stresses and pressures, while posing epochal threats to the entire planetary ecological system and ultimately, human survival.
The apocalypse of climate change essentially calls for a paradigm shift and an overhaul of the global economic system, one that supports strategies for achieving equitable development, realising human rights, understanding the intrinsic value of nature and the well-being of populations in the context of sustainable and self-sustaining development.
The bottom-line is that powerful countries continue to promote market-based solutions instead of real solutions, which would require changing consumption and production patterns within a sustainable economic framework; and ensuring that those responsible for pollution, foot the bill through asserting the 'polluter pays' principle.
Recognising the Root of the Problem
Until the world recognises that the exploitative approach towards the rest of creation, which has been the hallmark of Western culture for millenia and still remains so, is the root source of environmentally destructive practices then we are going to continue the precipitous slide towards total disaster.