G8 Summit: US finds itself all alone again

When leaders of the world’s most advanced economies — also known as the Group of Eight (G8) — tried to set new targets to fight climate change at their summit in Britain in 2005, the US balked. Two years later, despite mountains of studies warning of dangerous consequences, the world’s largest polluter seems to be taking the same position at the G8 summit that kicked off in the German resort town of Heiligendamm yesterday. Many activists and analysts believe the administration of President Bush is in no mood to shed its isolationist approach towards climate change, even as the rest of the G8 members agree it has become a “serious challenge” for the planet.

Despite increasing calls from the Democratic opposition and green groups at home to take part in the global effort to address climate change, Bush has rejected a proposed European plan to set new limits on greenhouse gas emissions for the industrialised nations. Leaked documents indicate that during negotiations prior to the summit, the Europeans tried hard to persuade Washington to change its stance, but failed in their attempts as US officials continued to insist on drastic changes in the text of the draft statement.

The draft statement, authored by the Germans, seeks agreement to contain the rise in average global temperatures this century to 2 degrees C, with cuts in emissions by 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. It also proposes at least a 20% increase in energy efficiency. “The US has serious fundamental concerns about this draft statement,” said a US diplomatic note on the text obtained by Greenpeace. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol requires the world’s most industrialised countries, which together account for 45% of global emissions, to reduce their carbon output by 2012 to an average of 5% below 1990 levels.

Although the US is responsible for at least 25% of carbon emissions, it is not obligated to meet that requirement as it has not ratified the treaty. However, recently the Bush administration indicated willingness to take action after 2012. In negotiating the text, US officials flatly rejected phrases asserting that climate change “is speeding up and will seriously damage our common natural environment”, that “resolute action is urgently needed”, and that “we are deeply concerned about the latest findings confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).” This year, the IPCC, comprising over 1,000 leading scientists, released three reports warning of rising sea levels and devastating flooding, widespread food scarcity and the extinction of many species of plants and animals if no drastic action is taken.

Some observers predict a repeat of the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, where leaders pledged to address climate change but made no binding commitments, apparently an attempt on part of the Europeans to keep the US engaged.

To many critics of the Bush administration’s environmental record, time for compromise is over. “Hopefully, the G8 would not give President Bush a get out of jail free card,” Michael Dorsey, professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, US, said. Regarding Bush’s proposal to bring the US into a post-Kyoto process, Dorsey said: “It is regrettable that engagement comes this late in the midst of an unfolding climate crisis that has already claimed 150,000 lives.” — IPS