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Can They Walk the Walk?
G-7 Leaders Talk the Climate Talk

At the end of their recent summit at a Bavarian castle in Germany, leaders of the G-7 countries—the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada—told the world it should cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 compared to 2010 levels, adding in their support for a complete phase-out of fossil fuels by 2100. Predictably, greens were enthused by this feel-good news, as Mashable reports:

“Today, for the first time ever, G7 leaders have rallied behind a long-term goal to decarbonize the global economy. This long-term decarbonization goal will make evident to corporations and financial markets that the most lucrative investments will stem from low-carbon technologies. This target must also be a key element of an ambitious international climate agreement,” said Jennifer Morgan, who directs the climate change program for the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

The G-7 leadership also embraced the 2 degrees Celsius target, a level of warming that, should our planet exceed when compared to pre-industrial average temperatures, could present a host of nasty problems to humanity. Canadian prime minister Steven Harper bluntly said that the goal to “decarbonize” the global economy would “require serious technological transformation…I don’t think we should fool ourselves; nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights.” On this point Harper is right on the money. Hair-shirt environmentalism will never find international traction, while accelerating the transition to a global information economy can achieve green goals in harmony with various national interests. To the extent that the G-7 pursues its decarbonization goal through the research, development, and eventual deployment of better, smarter, and more efficient technologies, it’s on the right track.

But all of this talk is happening against the backdrop of this December’s climate summit in Paris, which leads to the obvious question: what does the G-7 position mean for the Global Climate Treaty? On this front, greens will likely be disappointed. Despite the G-7 commitment to minding the 2C target, that goal seems to have already been scrapped for the negotiations in France. The UN’s own climate chief Christiana Figueres admitted earlier this year that Paris will “not get us onto the 2C pathway.”

This disconnect between the G-7 and the Paris talks is emblematic of one of the biggest problems delegates will face in France later this year: the divide between the developed and the developing world. Industrialized nations (i.e. the G-7) are already in a position to start transitioning to information economies, away from the more carbon-intensive industries that built their wealth over the last century and, it must be said, pushed greenhouse gas concentrations to the levels that have precipitated all these concerns over our planet’s changing climate. Meanwhile, the developing world isn’t ready to hear that it can’t grow the same way, that it has to shutter coal plants that might deliver electricity to impoverished people in favor of the preservation of a delicate (and poorly understood) global equilibrium.

The G-7 announcement doesn’t bring us any closer to a Global Climate Treaty. It was tellingly devoid of details, and the specific targets it did mention were loose and far-off enough to make them practically worthless as tools for crafting an international agreement. And while the developed world publicly staked out its climate position, negotiators were meeting in Bonn to attempt to pare down the bloated draft text for December’s summit, a process that the FT reports has left observers vexed over how little progress has been made. If you want an indication of the health of the GCT movement, you’d be much better served watching the progress of Bonn’s frustrated delegates than delighting in the empty, smiling rhetoric coming out of Bavaria.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Let’s see if they walk the climate walk. Meanwhile, despite the latest “data adjustments” from NOAA (which has lost any remaining credibility on the subject of climate change) and a huge increase in CO2 over the past 20 years, the temperature stubbornly refuses to rise.

  • Nevis07

    Renewables just aren’t ready for prime-time. Having said that, we’re probably at a sort of crossroads in our primary energy investment and consumption mix. Renewables were actually just about competitive when compared to oil at it’s highs in 2014, but if shale has taught us anything, it’s that market economics still trumps politics. At oil’s current prices, renewables are of course not competitive, but just as shale producers keep improving their technology, renewables do the same and will continue to do so. Shale is a fantastic stop-gap technology, as current prices for traditional oil and gas exploration are very expensive – at $60/barrel, for example, you just can’t build and operate a massive plant in Siberia or the Arctic, those oil plays – they require too much capital to finance for 30 or 40 years. In fact, there are some in the industry that think that some of the recent large energy plays by the big oil giants will ultimately be failed investments. There’s just too much uncertainty about prices over that time period. Shale on the other hand can drill and operate with extreme versatility. The more I look into our future energy mix, the more I see shale in the medium term and renewables to the mid to long-term having increasing roles, but it will be on market economics decisions not politicians.

  • Proud Skeptic

    Now these guys are getting the idea. Set the goals so far in the future that they will be retired or dead when the dates come around. This is the way it is done,

    • JR

      I’ve always advocated to call for the end of the world in 50 years is the best time frame. Too far away for anyone to remember what crazy nonsense you spouted half a century ago yet close enough to get suckers to give you cold hard cash.

  • jburack

    It is absolutely beyond my ability any longer to take discussions like this seriously. NO ONE KNOWS whether CO2 is contributing all that much to climate change. NO ONE KNOWS if “climate change” now (what little there even appears to be) is different in any way from every other time period in earth’s history, during which climate has always been changing. And above all NO ONE KNOWS OR HAS ANY BASIS FOR EVEN SUSPECTING, that draconian reductions in CO2 will alter temperature one ioto – EVEN IF, it has contributed to some portion of warming. No ecosystem, even a simple one, is simply reversible. Drain a swamp, and you will NOT restore the swamp by simply re-flooding it. This entire issue exists in a realm of pure mythology and fantasy. The science, consensus or no consensus, is simply nowhere near precise or full enough to answer even the most basic questions. It is an insult to my intelligence to see even worthy sites like American Interest treat this as an issue about which there is ANY certain knowledge at all.

    • JR

      True, but if you can get an all-expenses paid trip to Paris out of this, what’s not to like….

  • JR

    Can I somehow get anyone to cut me a check if I spout correct thoughts about climate change? That’s what I care about!

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