Hey G8, what about the climate?

Posted by Daniel Mittler — 17 June 2013 at 9:06am - Comments
Save the Climate hot air balloon
All rights reserved. Credit: Robert Visser

As leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the USA and the UK descend on Northern Ireland for their yearly G8 jamboree, even the most conservative of bodies are calling for urgent action on climate change. The World Bank, for one, has made it clear that the 4 degree warmer world we are heading towards (if we fail to act urgently) is not a place any of us want to be. And the International Energy Agency has just reminded the world that the vast majority of oil, coal and gas reserves need to stay under the ground if we want life on earth to be pleasant rather than chaotic (a long overdue recognition of the "carbon logic"). 

Yet, if you look at the G8 summit´s website, climate change is consipicuous in its absence. That did not used to be so.

Back in 2007, 2008 or 2009, for example, climate was a key issue these countries fought over. Now it reportedly took heavy lobbying from Germany and France for Cameron (who promised to run the  "greenest government ever") to even agree to talk about climate change at all. With such bad preparation and lack of political capital being invested in getting the G8 to send a leadership signal on climate, it's hard to see how the summit can produce anything but meaningless platitudes. 

But do prove me wrong, dear G8 leaders, please do! French president François Hollande, after all, has already called on you all to "do ... [your] part and give a strong political impetus to curb carbon emissions."

Here is a simple guide to making me eat my words.

The G8 should set out clearly how existing commitments to finance climate action, adaptation and ending deforestation will be met and how much "climate finance" each G8 leaders will make available for countries in need between 2013 and 2015.

The leaders should also commit to innovate ways of generating the money urgently needed to fight poverty and climate change. This should include making the international shipping and aviation industries pay for their excessive damage to our climate, taxing financial transactions and redirecting the absurd amount currently being spent on fossil fuel subsidies to financing the energy revolution we need.

As a German, it makes my blood boil that even a country like Germany spends $6.6 billion on financing climate destruction through fossil fuel subsidies, but has only pledged some 500 million in terms of financial support to those countries that need support to act. 

While they are at it, G8 leaders also need to show that they are serious about agreeing a new, legally binding, fair global treaty on climate change at the UN climate summit 2015 in Paris. To be credible, they need to deliver a peak in climate damaging emissions before 2020 and therefore need to set out immediate steps by each G8 nation to step up their efforts between now and 2020. 

I am not holding my breath, but you are allowed to wake me up any time of night if you hear rumours of the G8 agreeing to such an action agenda.  

By the way, I am not for a moment saying that the issues this summit will focus on instead of climate change – trade, tax compliance and transparency - are not important. The free trade agenda the G8 still holds onto, though, is likely to make our environmental vows worse, not  better.

And it´s odd that the transparency discussion is not being linked to climate change. After all, climate change is a driver for "land grabbing". Initiatives such as Publish What you Pay, however welcome, are all too often about payments that facilitate the extraction of the very oil, gas and coal reserves that we know we need to find ways of leaving in the ground.   

That said, this G8 may yet deliver something on tax which is positive for people and planet. I can only salute the excellent work done by other civil society groups on the outrage of corporate tax dodging. Their campaign work has indeed resulted in the "highest pressure yet on the tax dodgers" this week.

Corporations avoiding taxes is not only plainly unfair, it also results in there being less money available to tackle climate change, poverty and to pay for other vital public service. So here is to hoping that public pressure will result in a real step forward on ending tax evasion. I am keeping my fingers crossed. 

Frankly, the G8 should have an interest in delivering something on tax compliance as doing so could allow them to argue that the G8 is not completely irrelevant in a multi-polar world. For the climate, the importance of the G8 is not in doubt.

For starters, the G8 nations still emit the a big chunk of all climate damaging gases worldwide (and have emitted the vast majority historically). And while everyone who has a high carbon footprint needs to act no matter where they live (from Manila to New York), there is no question that if the G8 nations sent a signal of leadership on climate change that would be a huge deal.

It could change the 'you go first' dynamics of the climate negotiations and send clear signals to markets and investors that they cannot assume that fossil fuels will be a good long term investment. 

I am not holding my breath. But especially if our leaders fail us – again - in Northern Ireland this week, I am asking for your help. We must hold their feet to the fire at home and make them act. One first opportunity to do so will be the End the Age of Coal action day on 29 June. Join in and remind world leaders that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if we are to have a decent future for all.

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