At the G8 summit in Italy world leaders, in an act which is reminiscent of the efforts of Canute, agreed to limit the rise of average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. This is the “limit” the climate system can warm before communities experience catastrophic effects, according to some scientists.
The implications of this agreement are that emissions of CO2 will need to be reduced by 80% from 1990 levels. This they did not agree on. Some countries, such as Britain, France and Italy are using the 1990 start date while others, such as Canada and the US, are using 2005 or 2006. The G8 communiqué fudges this by acknowledging that baselines may vary but "efforts must be comparable". What is noticeable is that targets were not set for any time period before 2050.
A cut of 80% in CO2 emissions on a 1990 baseline by 2050 not possible with existing technologies, infrastructure and current political actions. The US Cap and Trade scheme, on which Obama pins many hopes, coupled with the push to renewable energy will have little, if any, impact on either emissions or energy use. Many of the countries who signed up to the Kyoto Accord have increased their emissions rather than reduced them. Canada, for example, has increases emissions by 26%.
Efforts by Britain’s Gordon Brown to create a G8 technology fund of $100 billion to support climate change initiatives met with no positive response. Efforts to secure agreement with the developing countries attending the G8 – India and China amongst them – failed. The developing nations want firm guarantees of subsidies from the rich nations' club to help them meet the cost of converting their industries to low-carbon technology. They also want the G8 members to be more specific about their interim targets for reducing emissions by 2020. India said of the G8 communiqué “words are cheap”.
The G8 agreement is largely window dressing. The absence of a 2020 target – the G8 leaders were being pressed to agree to a 40% reduction by 2020 on 1990 baseline – and the absence of agreed global mechanisms for taxing carbon, border tariffs, technology development and technology transfer are all signs that the communiqué is meant to simply indicate that the G8 has heard the concern but intends to continue doing what they are each doing now. 2050 is too far in the future to shape political action now.
The good news is that the average global temperature is falling – it has fallen 0.75 degree Farenheit since Al Gore released his film An Inconvenient Truth. Maybe the G8 leaders hope that the thirty years of global cooling that some scientists are predicting will do their work for them.