It appears that the G8 pledge to do everything possible to keep global warming below 2°C by 2050 isn’t worth the paper it was written on. Less than 24 hours after leaders of the world’s largest economies were heralding a breakthrough in climate agreements, the bad boys of international climate negotiations — Canada and Russia — broke ranks.
Environment Minister Jim Prentice indicated that there were no plans to adjust Canada’s current goals which will only cut the country’s GHG emissions by about 50% over 1990 levels. “No, we don’t need to change our policies,” said Prentice in describing the the 80% target as “aspirational.”
“Really when you are speaking of 2050, by that time some of the significant technological changes that are necessary will have been made and so Canada’s position is quite consistent with that,” Prentice said.*
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s top economic adviser called the target by the G8 “unacceptable” even though Russia, like Canada, is a member in a group that includes the US, Japan, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. “We are not going to sacrifice our economic growth” in order to secure greater cuts, said Arkady Dvorkovich. He then added that further climate talks are useless without commitments from the largest emerging economies.
And there’s the rub. Emerging economies, like China, India, and Brazil, do emit a notable percentage of the world’s GHG emissions, but they don’t enjoy a high standard of living. In the absence of any real firm commitments from the G8 to cut emissions by 2020, developing countries don’t see why they should be forced to sacrifice economic progress while wealthy nations fail to make tough decisions.
Environmental groups are seething. The Pembina Institute called Canada’s position “very disappointing” while the Climate Action Network’s Angela Anderson said that “since the US has moved out of the bad-boy status, Canada and Russia have become the bullies of the climate change process.”
President Barack Obama will try to smooth ruffled feathers as he leads a Major Economies Forum (MEF) focusing on climate change. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already predicted that no breakthrough will be forthcoming. In rare breaks in diplomacy, both Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown are said to have expressed consternation over Canada’s intransigence.
The International Energy Agency welcomed the G8 call to action, but warned that very few developed nations will be able to meet their carbon reduction commitments without a massive financial commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“This is a step in the right direction, but, much more needs to be done,” said IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka. “Investment in energy efficiency and clean technologies would need to increase four-fold if we want to keep the rise in global average temperature under 2° Celsius (3.6°F). This means $400 billion more every year over the next 20 years.”
* Prentice is arguing that Canada and the US are great trading partners, and that the Canadian position is very similar to that proposed by Obama.
This is complete and utter poppycock. I’ll write more about my reasoning in the next day or two.
An Aside: The G8 Climate coverage is a mixed bag. On Wednesday, several media outlets were trumpeting the G8 promise to limit global warming to 2°C as a huge breakthrough, but it was nothing of the sort. In that one respect, Prentice was right. In the absence of any firm mid-term reduction targets, the G8 pronouncement was aspirational.
And the emerging world understands. We in the western world have caused the problem, but we refuse to take responsibility for it.
Here’s what the science demands. Emissions must stop rising by 2020 at the latest. In order to meet the science, developed nations must cut emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020.
Now measure that by Canada’s offer to cut emissions by 2.7 percent. And now consider that we will not even make that modest with our current climate plan.
Honestly, I don’t know how Stephen Harper and Jim Prentice sleep at night.