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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