An Inconvenient Summit: Top Eight Countries Tackle Global Warming

This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley.


Every year, eight of the world's top industrialized nations tackle an ambitious global agenda at the Group of Eight (G8) summit. Whereas previous years' summits have been "chilled" by discussion of the U.S. blunder in Iraq, this week's G8 summit in Germany will instead focus on other issues such as global warming, which Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is hosting the G8, "has put atop the agenda." Germany's G8 negotiator recently emphasized the urgency of working cooperatively with the United Nations to battle the climate crisis. "Our red lines are that we will not abandon the UN process," said German state minister Dr. Bernd Pfaffenbach. "We will not accept any attempts to weaken the scientific basis. We need to work toward concrete, binding goals."

But even without the Iraq issue in the room, President Bush has again managed to largely contribute to a "tense" atmosphere going into the conference, due in part to his unwillingness to embrace an international climate change solution. According to Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, the general view in Europe prior to the G8 is, "Let's be patient, November 2008 is coming," referring to the next U.S. presidential election. But the world cannot afford for the G8 to miss this opportunity to create a global solution to the climate crisis. Take action HERE.

A STRONG PROPOSAL: A recent report issued by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) strongly advocated a goal of "reducing CO2 emissions by between 50 and 85 percent by 2050" to begin to combat global warming. In line with these targets, E.U. nations have set forth an ambitious proposal for the G8 "whereby global temperatures would be allowed to increase no more than 2 degrees Celsius before being brought back down.

Practically, experts have said that means a global reduction in emissions of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050," barely the minimum recommended by the IPCC. Merkel has also called for an aggressive "blanket target for cuts in greenhouse gas output and a timetable for a major agreement on emissions reduction to succeed the Kyoto Protocol."

The Europeans' call to action adds to "the voices of many big corporations such as Dow, Shell, General Electric, and General Motors. These and other Fortune 500 companies endorsed a 60 percent to 80 percent reduction in global warming pollution by 2050."

SIDESTEPPING THE U.N. (AGAIN): The European Union's ambitious plan is an attempt to produce a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, particularly "under the auspices of the United Nations." In 2001, Bush rejected the United Nations's Kyoto climate agreement largely because it was purportedly not in line with U.S. economic interests.

Now, he is again using the same reason to avoid the European Union's attempts to produce a consensus U.N. agreement, claiming the European position "crossed multiple red lines." White House climate adviser James Connaughton, who oversaw the elimination of references to global warming in White House documents, declared, "The U.S. has different sets of targets" and prefers "setting targets in the context of national circumstances." Bush proposed his own plan last week, "saying he wanted the world's top 15 emitters to meet later this year and agree on new measures by the end of 2008."

His approach "listed no concrete targets or dates, no enforcement mechanism and no penalties for noncompliance. It also wouldn't take effect until four years after Bush leaves office" and threatens to split the G8 on global warming. As Bush's voluntary compliance system has allowed carbon dioxide emissions to increase by 168 million metric tons, the "biggest worry in Europe is that the Bush Administration approach of stressing technology and voluntary targets will weaken the global effort under U.N. auspices to set mandatory targets." "America increasingly wants to use new technologies and in this way test how much carbon dioxide emissions can be decreased," Merkel said. "We Europeans find it more compelling to agree on goals on an international level, and direct our efforts accordingly." So do the IPCC, a bipartisan group of 20 U.S. senators, the chairmen of 15 House committees, and staunch Bush ally Tony Blair.

RENEGING ON POVERTY: If such opportunities continue to be missed, the world's poorest countries -- those least responsible for global warming -- will disproportionately face "a series of monumental challenges," including mass water shortages, starvation, and rising disease threats. Unfortunately, "[c]urrent levels of development assistance from the industrialized world are woefully insufficient to help the least developed nations cope with this coming onslaught."

The G8 conference presents a unique opportunity to mitigate poverty in places like Africa, but the G8 can't even meet its previous promises to the developing world. In 2005, G8 member countries promised to increase aid by $50 billion to developing countries, half of which would go to Africa, but "the aid pledge made at Gleneagles has languished."

Instead, aid fell in 2006 for the first time since 1997, and "more than half of what was promised in 2005 shows no sign of being delivered" today. At the G8 conference this week, issues such as climate change, thanks in part to the tense relations due to Bush's stubbornness, may further mask the poverty agenda. The burden to help battle the increased poverty, following from global warming, falls on the wealthy G8 nations. "This is a climate debt the industrialized world owes to these poor nations."

HOUSE STEPS BACKWARDS: Some U.S. leaders are echoing the Bush line, with their commitment to tackling the problem of global warming being more talk than substance. Yesterday, an energy bill drafted by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-WV) was circulated among members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).

The draft bill, which alleges to offer an environmentally-friendly "increase in fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks," has angered the ranks of environmentalists and lawmakers who are strongly committed to combating climate change. Under the proposal, "a dozen states would be blocked from imposing new requirements on automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

"The 'discussion draft' would prohibit the head of the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing a waiver needed for a state to impose auto pollution standards if the new requirements are 'designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.'" According to Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, "it's a double whammy. It not only preempts California and the rest of the states from moving forward [with new climate rules], it prevents the EPA from moving forward as well."


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