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Surprise, Surprise, G8 Fails to Take on Climate Change


Although climate change got four paragraphs in the G8 Muskoka Declaration--a document dubbed Recovery and New Beginnings coming out of the G8 Summit--it amounts to little more than a rehashing of earlier meetings, providing little new material and failing to deliver the momentum activists were hoping for at this halfway point between Copenhagen and Cop16 in Cancun, Mexico.

During Stephen Harper’s speech on the morning of June 26, climate change was relegated to one brief mention in a list of “also discussed” issues. At a morning press briefing, when asked about whether or not climate change was or will be discussed, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said it was part of an after-dinner discussion the previous evening but was “confidential.” Oh, okay. He went on to say that there would be a larger discussion when the meeting shifts to the G20 today and tomorrow, including a briefing on the issue from Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Environmental organizations decried the lack of substantial movement coming out of the G8 Summit.

“It has been an uphill battle to even get climate change discussed at all,” says Kim Cartensen, leader of WWF Global Climate Initiative. “What they’ve come forward with is the bare minimum in terms of taking climate change seriously. What we see is a repeat almost word for word of what they said last year. But it is not surprising.”

Highlights include:

- Commitments to a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, including an 80 percent reduction of GHG in developed countries by 2050 as a long-term goal with the addition of vague medium-term targets and nothing in the short term.
-  Reaffirming the United Nations process as the final and best strategy to deal with the climate crisis, and an acknowledgement if the need to keep the global temperature increase below 2-degrees.
-  A call for “a comprehensive, ambitious, fair, effective, binding, post-2012 agreement involving all countries, and including the respective responsibilities of all major economies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
- A nod to climate resiliency: “While remaining committed to fighting climate change, we discussed the importance of ensuring that economies are climate resilient," the document reads. "We agreed that more research was needed to identify impacts at the global, regional, national and sub-national levels, and the options for adaptation, including through infrastructural and technological innovation.”

“We really need much more clarity from the developed countries on how they think they are going to get there,” Cartensen said. “We need clarity on short-term targets and robust medium-term targets by 2020.”

“Each country needs to develop specific plans on how to get there and a way to measure,” Cartensen continued. “The only country that has done that is the U.K.. They have that level of specificity, Germany and France are working on it.”

In fact, Cartensen pointed out that even amongst the emerging countries such as South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico there are more ambitious targets and more detailed plans being put forward, while countries such as the host nation Canada are continually trying to lower the bar.

The meetings will come to a close this morning, and all attention will turn to Toronto and the G20 Summit. Top of mind for many: fossil fuel subsidies and the potential watering down of the call for their elimination at the last G20 Summit in Pittsburgh.

In a series of leaked documents, it is becoming clear that instead of providing a solid framework for the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies in the developed countries, at the G20 in Toronto the requirement could be made voluntary and countries will be given the ability to decide if, how, and when the subsidies will be eliminated. Again, according to insider reports, Canada along with Russia and Italy are pulling in the reins on progress, and trying to put a damper on one of the few bright spots for the environment to come out of the previous G20 summit.

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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