G8 climate pact lights up divisions
On the face of it, the climate declaration [pdf link] coming out of the G8's Thursday meeting with developing countries appears to be remarkably balanced - it doesn't give anyone what they really wanted.
G8 nations have not persuaded major developing countries to adopt numerical targets on reducing emissions.
Developing countries haven't got the pledges they wanted rich countries to adopt on sharp emission cuts by 2020. Nor have they persuaded G8 leaders to open their wallets and put billions of dollars on the table for green technology and protection against climate impacts.
Some of the environment and development groups that campaign on climate change have savaged the declaration for precisely these reasons.
But in reality, nothing more definite was ever likely to come out of the G8 gathering itself or the larger Major Economies Forum (MEF), the 16-nation-plus-EU group that brings together the biggest greenhouse gas producers from both developed and developing worlds.
The agreement that allowing the global average temperature to rise by more than 2C above pre-industrial levels would be a bad idea provides some indication that all blocs are serious about wanting a deal that will meaningfully constrain emissions.
This at least would not have happened while President Bush lived in the Washington White House and John Howard led Australia.
But all parties acknowledge that the UN process is the real forum for pledges. And what we have seen in L'Aquila is perhaps best viewed as a significant political signpost on the way to December's UN summit in Copenhagen, which is supposed to finalise a comprehensive new global climate treaty.
It is difficult not to conclude that for the Western public, there is a careful bit of news management going on here.
By floating the notion that developing countries would be requested to adopt numerical targets - which they never could, in fact, in this forum - G8 governments have raised the expectation in their electorates that developing countries should adopt numerical targets.
Thus the ground is further prepared for blaming developing countries if the Copenhagen process collapses or produces something with no more bite than an ageing chihuahua.
The key discussions - as they always have been - are about which bloc takes what level of responsibility for climate change, and who puts how much money on the table for what.
In the harsh light of political reality, the difficulties are still that the US and Japan will struggle domestically to set short-term targets big enough to impress developing nations, that in the current economic circumstances they'll struggle also to loosen their purse-strings for what is effectively a new kind of international aid, and that many developing country governments still find it anathema to contemplate meaningful pledges on reducing their own emissions.
The G8 and MEF meetings have confirmed the difficulties that exist. They have not gone very far to resolving them.
Big picture reflections
Although the G8 climate discussions dominated the environmental news this week, I enjoyed reading your comments on my last post asking whether all the political attention on climate change was obscuring discussion of other environmental issues.
In one sense, the G8 discussions threw the topic into a sharper light - and thanks for all your responses.
GaryTW20, you've perfectly encapsulated the arguments made in many quarters against investments to curb population growth - "birth rate control = eugenics = Hitler".
But as several other people observe, including mariansummerlight, programmes being run now by health agencies show that when you give women in poor countries the capacity to choose to have fewer babies, often they do - which benefits their own health, the prospects for their children and reduces population growth
Although still a little too radical for the political mainstream, this view of "population control" is now at least being discussed privately by some European politicians - and maybe the traditional association with eugenics and forced sterilisation will, in the end, be banished.
UI4060183, thanks for your link on Iran's fertility rate - interesting reading.
OneWorldStandards, you remind us - and thank you for it - that there has been a school of economics arguing that population growth is a very good thing because it generates wealth that a) betters the human lot generally, and b) can be used for environmental improvements if so desired.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has adhered to this school of thought in the past - how much currency it has now, and also what they make of China's spectacular economic growth while practising population restraint.
Maintaining the trend of artistic references - why not branch out into Razia Iqbal's domain sometimes? - omnologos' comment about reducing the average height of a human being reminded me of the Genesis song (showing my age now!) "Get 'Em Out by Friday", in which humans are limited to a maximum height of four feet in order that twice as many can be crammed into the same building... not a happy piece of work.
I feel a lot more empathy for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy story quoted by timjenvey... I defy anyone to work in an office or live in a city and not sometimes understand exactly how the Golgafrinchans felt!
On balance, though, probably not a practical option - especially as in some peoples' books, environment journalists would probably be first into the B-Ark...
There's one comment I have to query. stnylan writes: "If the price of our freedom is the devastation of our planet, that is a price worth paying". Really? And what price our freedom once the planet has been devastated?
This is a topic I know we'll come back to in the future - not least because I've spent a large chunk of the week gathering interviews for a BBC Radio Four programme about the very issue.
It's thrown up some fascinating insights and opinions... and I look forward to sharing some of them with you when the programme's due for airing towards the end of August.