Tuesday, July 8, 2008

100 months to save the Earth

There isn't much time to turn things around. And today's G8 announcements on climate change set the bar too low.

John Sauven


The informal annual gathering of the world's most powerful leaders emerged after the oil crisis and the subsequent recession in the 1970s. The vested interests of this group in the global economy and access to the world's resources are obvious. The eight countries now forming the group represent between them the bulk of the world's economic activity; they also own most of the world's firepower and consume most of the world's resources.

Given the vested interests you'd think then that the G8 would be focused on climate change: a threat "more serious even than the threat of terrorism" (Sir David King); "the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen", which will cause economic havoc costing more than two world wars and the Great Depression combined (Professor Nicholas Stern). Surely that is just the sort of a challenge that the big boys club ought to be taking on?

Global emissions in 1990 were 40bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Estimates put current emissions at around 55bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. If we continue on this path then by 2050 the figure will be a colossal 85 billion tonnes. A 50% cut using a 1990 baseline means getting down to just 20bn tonnes a year by 2050. What's not being talked about is how we get there.

The world's climate experts say that that the world's CO2 output must peak within the next decade and then drop, very fast, if we are to reach this sort of long term reduction. In short, we have about 100 months to turn the global energy system around. The action taken must be immediate and far reaching.

If the G8 wants to be taken seriously it should stop debating what the goal is for 2050 and introduce a moratorium on all new coal fired power stations in their countries. Coal burning is the biggest single cause of CO2 pollution and the greatest threat to the climate. We can live without coal in the developed world and we have better options. They should launch an Apollo programme for renewable energy and start a campaign against energy wastage to secure genuinely clean energy supplies for the coming decades. They must act decisively to finally stop the mass deforestation that on its own accounts for a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Professor Stern, climate change is likely to result in droughts and floods that will create 200 million climate refugees and it could make two-fifths of the world's species extinct. Yet to solve it, as challenging as it may seem, would only cost 1 or 2% of global GDP. Roughly what is spent worldwide on advertising. This is pocket change for the G8. Just these eight countries between them account for about 65% of global GDP.

This club is a powerful symbol of global inequality. If the G8 has any role at all, it should be to redress that inequality. That means taking responsibility for the climate impact of the industrialisation and consumption that has made the G8 into the biggest, richest and most powerful set of countries on Earth. The G8 nations are to blame for 62% of the CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere today. Tackling climate change is in their own interests as well as those of the 86% of the world's population not represented at the table in Hokkaido this week

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