Feature

The G-8 takes a long view on climate

At the G-8 meeting in Hokkaido, Japan, the industrialized Western nations, China, and India agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, but not until 2050.

What happenedFor the first time, the world’s wealthiest Western nations and the emerging powers of China and India agreed this week to long-range cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, calling climate change “one of the great global challenges of our time.’’ At a meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Hokkaido, Japan, the U.S., Japan, Russia, and Western European nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent—but not until the year 2050. China, India, Brazil, and other developing nations refused to sign on to specific emissions cuts, but did agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, if Western nations cut theirs back over the next two decades.

President Bush, who has long insisted that any international emissions treaty include China and India, hailed the agreement as a breakthrough. But environmentalists said that postponing the deadline for reductions for four decades was just another “stalling tactic’’ by the U.S. and the West. “At this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G-8 leaders will be long forgotten,’’ said Antonio Hill, a spokesman for Oxfam International, a global advocacy group for social justice.

What the editorials saidDoes anything the G-8 does really matter? asked The Economist. Many of the world’s biggest problems now “have their roots beyond the G-8,” or simply are too complex for the wealthiest nations to control. Look no further than last year’s summit, which failed to anticipate that soaring oil and food prices would threaten the stability of poor countries, “mocking earlier G-8 commitments to reducing global poverty.” At this year’s meeting, the G-8 could take no effective stand on Robert Mugabe’s brutal power play in Zimbabwe, or on rising food prices.

The fault is not in the G-8 leaders but in ourselves, said the Mon­treal Gazette. Soaring expectations have transformed the meetings into “vast carnivals of special-interest clamor.” A circus atmosphere has supplanted personal diplomacy, which is the real value of such meetings. The group’s leaders should assemble someplace quiet. Meantime, the rest of the world should dispense with the fantasy that the G-8 can “solve urgent problems in a day or two.” If expectations have reached absurd heights, said The Washington Times, it’s because the G-8 encourages them. A case in point is this week’s declaration on climate change. The G-8’s outlandish carbon-cutting plan would make the Manhattan Project “look minuscule by comparison.” Maintaining economic growth while virtually eliminating fossil fuels would be “the largest economic re-engineering in the history of mankind,” costing trillions. That explains why these top-down global agreements inevitably “founder on the rocks of practicality and self-interest.”

What the columnists said Actually, the G-8 has already proved its worth, said Rosemary Righter in the London Times. The global regime has weathered storms in recent years that once would have driven the world into recession. Now, a rocky global economy demands concerted leadership, and the G-8’s focus on climate change is the right approach. With soaring oil prices exposing “the connections between climate change policies, energy security, and the health of the global economy,” it’s time for massive investment in low-carbon technologies. “If the G-8 plays the energy card right, the next decade could be as amazing as the last,” with clean energy technology driving a second wave of globalization.

It’s not all about climate change, said Edward N. Luttwak and Marian L. Tupy in the Los Angeles Times. Africa is in crisis. Yet after 50 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in misguided generosity, the G-8 nations still seem oblivious to the harm they’ve caused. Rich nations continue to prop up predatory African states “by enriching corrupt political leaders and paying the salaries of their bureaucrats, soldiers, and police.” If the G-8 would stop funding tyrants, “authentic African polities rooted in African traditions” could finally emerge on the continent.

What next?The climate-change communiqué from Hokkaido sets the stage for further negotiations on an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol, which the U.N. hopes to forge by the end of 2009. “Now you see what the shape of the table is, what the nature of the bargain is,’’ said David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Developed nations such as the U.S. appear ready to agree to specific reduction goals over the next few decades, in return for China and India’s willingness to set long-term emissions goals.

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