Yesterday, the G8 countries promised to cut their greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050, and to limit global warming to no more than 2oC. This is better than nothing – but only just, for the following reasons:
- Targets for 41 years in the future are of little use when we must reduce emissions massively and very quickly now.
- Whatever we do now, it may not be possible to keep the temperature increase below 2o, due to the greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere.
- There is no commitment on how these targets will be reached.
Today, the G8 are meeting the so-called G5, the key developing nations: Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Egypt is a special invitee. The developing nations will inevitably – and rightly – argue that the G8 have not promised deep enough cuts quickly enough. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has already said made this point. The G8 will press the G5 and Egypt to promise their own cuts, to which the developing county leaders will argue that North America and Europe got rich through burning massive amounts of fossil fuels, and are now trying to prevent Latin America, Asia and Africa from catching up.
This is essentially a futile debate. As Jeremy Rifkin has said (see 29 June 2009: A climate business plan), talk of targets, reductions and constraints should be replaced by an ambitious business plan on how we will harvest the immense power of the sun, the wind and the oceans to fuel the global economy. This should be properly funded – at least as well financed as the efforts to keep the global banking system afloat. The rich North and West cannot realistically – or morally – expect the poor South and East to accept constraints on development when people living there urgently need better lives, and their historic contribution to greenhouse gas contributions is minute.
A business plan should outline how solar power, wind and biogas will be exploited in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and how the programmes will be funded. It should outline new means of raising revenue for this, such as an international tax on aviation fuel. It should offer – to borrow an excellent phrase – the audacity of hope.