Environment takes a back seat at the G8

As the G-8 summit convenes today in L'Aquila, Italy, one of the biggest and most divisive issues on the table is the environment. Amid claims that the earth is reaching its irreversible "danger threshold," both industrialized and developing countries are still searching for ways to fight against concrete emissions goals. Perhaps the most powerful factor, however, is the apparent belief that reducing emissions will further stall worldwide recovery from the current recession.

One of the biggest problems has been setting an international standard on global warming. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has argued that nations need to ensure that the earth's temperature doesn't rise more than two percent over the pre-industrial standard. To that end, the WWF has issued scorecards to various nations, conveying what each country needs to do and how one country ranks against another.
The G-8 has consistently failed to reach its targets, the WWF says. The nations with the best record -- Germany, the U.K., and France -- have reached their Kyoto Treaty goals, but the WWF stresses that their work is still insufficient to contain global warming. Based upon President Obama's rhetoric, the United States has moved from eighth place -- last -- to seventh.

The G-8's goals for global warming are far less absolute. Although it has set a bold target of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, the economic forum has already displayed numerous qualifications. The 80 percent industrialized-nation standard translates into a global goal of 50 percent, suggesting that developing nations will be given far less stringent standards -- and in effect, transfering much of the world's greenhouse emissions to developing countries. Which, oddly, would seem to dovetail with the ambitions of developing countries, who have argued that the industrialized world needs to lead the way with deep emissions cuts.

For that matter, there remains the question of what, exactly, will be reduced by 80 percent. There seems to be no agreement upon the baseline year. This is highly significant, as global pollution has advanced rapidly over the past few decades; if 1990 is the baseline, then the goal for the next 40 years is far more stringent than it would be if 2007 was chosen. Japan has pledged to lower emissions by 40 to 60 percent over current levels, while the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill promising to drop emissions by 83 percent from 2005 levels.

On a broader scale, however, many members seemed resistant to movement on global warming, delaying with the suggestion that the conversation needs to be more inclusive, and better suited to the United Nations or to the G-20 meeting slated for Pittsburgh in September. On a broader context, however, the real problem might be a matter of focus. As the International Money Fund recently suggested, the global economy is starting to pull out of recession, but that governmental policies must remain supportive. For many, this seems to translate into putting a hold on pollution-reduction measures.
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