By Adam Stromme
The end of the G-7 Summit in Emlau comes at an interesting time for the global community. As the world’s economic center of gravity shifts further and further East, representatives of almost exclusively Western countries have gathered together in the name of remedying a hodge podge of various problems currently facing the global community: from tax policy to marine environmental protections.
Given the wide scope of the meeting, it is regrettable that the summit was so poorly covered. It opened dialogue on a vast array of issues, particularly, to borrow the phraseology of the Leader’s Declaration “health, the empowerment of women and climate protection” as well as blanket renewal of the G-7’s commitment “to play our part in addressing the major global challenges and to respond to some of the most pressing issues in the world.” Unfortunately, even a skimming of the Declaration makes abundantly clear that the summit constituted far more rhetoric than action.
But there is one notable exception to that rule: the resolutions on climate change. Whereas almost every other subject covered by the G-7 follows a predictable pattern of 1. flatly observing the existence of some sort of problem and then 2. “urging” the relevant group to action without any specific mechanism for ensuring that action is taken, the resolution on climate change was different. First of all, the leaders announced that they would be carbon free by 2100. Second, they set out strict measures to carry out “40 to 70% reductions by 2050 compared to 2010,” and signaled a continued commitment of all G-7 powers to the Copenhagen Accord in “mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion a year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, both public and private in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation.”
This latter part is critical, as it is the only hint that the G-7 provided that they would be acting beyond their own national borders on the issues.
Such a move is almost unparalleled, and although incredulity and feet dragging is almost a given in the context of the ultimate prisoner’s dilemma that is climate change, the fact that the group was even able to extract commitments from Japan and Canada, arguably two of the most cantankerous members of the group, is remarkable. Some have speculated that the absence of Russia– an oil and natural gas giant whose transgressions in Crimea and continuing violation of Ukrainian sovereignty has effectively granted the regime pariah status– contributed to Merkel’s ability to spearhead a more aggressive agenda.
All of this is bodes extremely well for the global community, but risks missing a critical component: Europe and America are not the long term problem. Their developed economies are more than capable of converting to a carbon neutral path provided that awareness initiatives continue to trump naked propaganda. Rather, it is aiding developing countries like China and India that should be at the forefront of of the climate change debate.
the real challenge for the global community in the coming decades is going to be when the costly, energy intensive process of industrialization becomes a truly global phenomenon in places where the premium lies in cheap, not sustainable energy.
All of this should not be misconstrued as saying that the developed world does not have a huge burden upon its shoulders to preserve the climate for future generations. It does. But the real challenge for the global community in the coming decades is going to be when the costly, energy intensive process of industrialization becomes a truly global phenomenon in places where the premium lies in cheap, not sustainable energy. Despite the stumble of 08’-09’, the developing world is still a huge source of global growth potential.
Think of industrial revolutions occurring all around the world, only with much more people, and well into the future.
That is the big picture.
Although much of the controversy lay in sidelining Russia (hence the G-7, not the G-8) the real powers that should’ve been allowed to have a more active role in the discussions were India and China. Although only members of the G-20, both have critical stakes to play in the fight against climate change.
And progress is currently uneven. As Raymond Pierrehumbert of the University of Chicago clearly explains, China has already signed on to an earth shatteringly important agreement with the United States back in November to reach its peak carbon emissions level by 2030. Such a swift commitment to remedying climate change by the world’s worst polluter is unprecedented for a developing economy. Furthermore, it represents just the sort of dramatic action that the developed countries of the G-7 should be sponsoring.
Think of industrial revolutions occurring all around the world, only with much more people, and well into the future. That is the big picture.
India, on the other hand, is in a much tougher spot. Its economy has historically been much weaker than China’s– although that is changing— and it is projected to be a young and developing economy much longer than most of the rest of the world. It is also increasingly dependent on coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, for growth. Without a binding agreement and a helping hand, the Indian economy risks becoming a ticking time bomb for the entire climate change prevention agenda.
That is why it is so important that these two countries, especially India, be at the front and center for the upcoming Paris Climate Conference in November. Although the global economy continues to shift east, it continues to be the preponderant western powers that have the most potential– and for now, the greatest obligation– to help the developing world in the fight against climate change. As the motto of the summit said best: “Think Ahead, Act Together.”