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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.

Ron Johnson
Is based in Toronto, Canada, where he is an editor for Post City magazines and contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, The National Post and the London Business Times.

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I don’t want to be mean, but 2 million people worldwide is practically nothing. There’s probably more than that who think they’ve been kidnapped by UFOs.
My entirely subjective opinion is that over the last 5 years the general belief in global warming as an imminent threat to humanity has decreased substantially. (Not saying it isn’t; just saying people don’t believe it any more).
Why is it that the G20 leaders are constantly reneging on their green promises? Let’s assume that they’re not evil aliens, who will leave the planet once they’ve sucked it dry, there must be logic reasons for it. May be there are more pressing concerns for them to deal with? <a href=“”>Alltag</a>

By ranjet on Tue, October 16, 2012 at 10:30 am

absolutely disgusting to see all the pigs at the trough feeding of taxpayers money.

By angela on Sat, November 05, 2011 at 7:00 am

You have to wonder what it will take the break the back of the fossil fuel industry and its strangleho­ld on global politics. Though of course, it’s us as individual­s that give those guys so much money to spend on lobbying, etc because we aren’t making lifestyle changes fast enough.

<a href=“”>textile exporter</a>

By staunza on Mon, February 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm

“Move forward with an aggressive plan to deal with the climate crisis and gain momentum heading into COP16 in Cancun”

What a joke. lets see them do ANYTHING?!

By L_Cid on Thu, November 25, 2010 at 4:08 am

Of course such summits are very important and are organized to improve the environmental situation. But do they really work? It seems that the Earth revenges for all the damages people caused. Just think over all these natural disasters.

By Marina on Wed, October 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Not just a climate change problem or fossil fuels but UNSAFE parctices of oil and gas companies.  Gasland aired in Toronto and Vancouver and had great reviews and has been on HBO Canada before.  For those that missed it see this below -not a sale, just info. >>

Not selling anything, just info.

By babsinva on Mon, August 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

By contributing to the strengthening of the international financial architecture and providing opportunities for dialogue on national policies, international co-operation,and international financial institutions,the G-20 helps to support growth and development across the globe.

By irvinelmo on Wed, August 11, 2010 at 2:25 am

I don’t think that the left has made it a big political issue, it has been the right. Name a left leaning politician who has made climate change a major issue. Al Gore is the only one, and he has been out of the running for anything since losing the Presidential election 9 years ago. For Obama and other Democrats it has been an issue but not a major one. It takes a back seat to the wars, health care, the economy and most other issues. It gets lip service from Democrats at best.Square peg web

By Square peg web on Fri, July 23, 2010 at 2:29 am

Hello guys!

Very interesting artile and moreover,I agree with the fred information because its activity of politics to climate change lights

By Glimzer on Wed, July 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Hi..The G20 is essentially a special club, that exists so countries like Canada and the USA can avoid the far less expensive and far more egalitarian United Nations - which gives a voice to small countries while allowing effective debate and discussion.
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By facebook layouts on Sun, July 11, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I’m not sure what the end result should be but there NEEDS to be a realistic and agreed upon share of the responsibilities.

By California Solar Engineering on Wed, June 30, 2010 at 9:28 am

Let’s end billions of dollars in government subsidies to climate change crooks.

By fred holyman on Tue, June 29, 2010 at 11:24 am

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