Post-Mortem on G8 and G20: Climate Change Remains a Non-Issue


The G20 Summit is almost two years old. And like an infant approaching its terrible twos, the ad hoc gang of developed countries with no real structure or mandate is starting to get out of hand.

Heading into the G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto, there were a number of areas where the developed countries had the opportunity to show leadership and initiative, and introduce progressive ideas. The results, to say the least, are mixed.

Following is a breakdown of key climate-related initiatives the world was hoping the summits might tackle, and what actually happened at this year’s G8 and G20:

1. Move forward with an aggressive plan to deal with the climate crisis and gain momentum heading into COP16 in Cancun. No such luck. Canada announced some fast track financing, but there were little to no new initiatives discussed at the G8 or G20, and the report coming out of the G8 in Muskoka is almost identical in tone and intent to previous commitments.
  2. Get tough and eliminate the billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies to companies such as British Petroleum and other upstanding corporate citizens. Uh, wrong again. The whole eliminate fossil fuel subsidies thing must have been decided upon after a long night at the pub because G20 leaders this weekend seemed to be trying hard to forget it ever happened. 
  3. Enact a tax on financial transactions, dubbed the “Robin Hood Tax,” and earmark the revenues for social spending and climate change. Yes! Nah, just kidding. Wouldn’t that be nice though? A simple .05 per cent tax on transactions from corporations raking in billions in profits and, well, bailout revenue, to go to progressive social and environmental programs. There was lip service paid to keeping banks in line, so that’s good… right?

Instead, with the global financial recovery in a tenuous state, security threats from North Korea and Iran, and deficit consolidation dominatng the conference, little to no attention was paid to so-called “non-economic mandates,” such as the future of life on our planet. Ahem.

“I mean, there has been very little substantial in the G20 on climate change issues,” said Kim Carstensen, WWF Global Climate Initiative. “It is the bare minimum of engagement, the bare minimum making reference to climate change at this level.”

Carstensen also voiced concern over the disturbing omission of any talk about clean energy in the final communique.

“In an earlier draft there was talk of an investment in clean energy and that was taken out completely,” he said. “There were eight references to clean energy in the final report from Pittsburgh (the last G20 Summit) and they have been completely vacuum cleaned and that is kind of scary.”

There was a report by Mexican President Felipe Calderon on the state of climate change negotiations leading up to the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico this November, but Calderon’s press conference following the plenary sessions was cancelled and little follow-up was offered.

“I think, there has been no back tracking,” said Carstensen, in an attempt to remain upbeat as the proceedings wrap up. “So if we want to stay where we are that is a good thing, but if we think climate change needs to move forward and be more ambitious, then this is definitely not a success.”

That leaves some scratching their heads wondering when the G20 is going to move beyond being a forum for the global economic recovery and start throwing its weight around on issues that are considered by many to be equally, if not far more, important.

“As climate change continues to gather pace, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable that are bearing the real costs. The G20 needs to get serious,” said Robert Bailey of Oxfam International.

All eyes now turn to Cancun, Mexico where this November the United Nations countries will meet to try and hammer home a progressive and binding climate change agreement.

Following are the three paragraphs included with regard to climate change and environmental issue from the Toronto Declaration:

41. We reiterate our commitment to a green recovery and to sustainable global growth. Those of us who have associated with the Copenhagen Accord reaffirm our support for it and its implementation and call on others to associate with it. We are committed to engage in negotiations under the UNFCCC on the basis of its objective provisions and principles including common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and are determined to ensure a successful outcome through an inclusive process at the Cancun Conferences. We thank Mexico for undertaking to host the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 16) in Cancun from November 29 to December 20, 2010 and express our appreciation for its efforts to facilitate negotiations. We look forward to the outcome of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing which is, inter alia, exploring innovative finance.

42. We note with appreciation the report on energy subsidies from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), OECD and World Bank. We welcome the work of Finance and Energy Ministers in delivering implementation strategies and timeframes, based on national circumstances, for the rationalization and phase out over the medium term of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, taking into account vulnerable groups and their development needs. We also encourage continued and full implementation of country-specific strategies and will continue to review progress towards this commitment at upcoming summits.

43. Following the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico we recognize the need to share best practices to protect the marine environment, prevent accidents related to offshore exploration and development, as well as transportation, and deal with their consequences.


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