It was a tale of two cities Saturday in Toronto for this climate activist. One of hope and the other of boredom.
Saturday morning, I joined Greenpeace, Oxfam, the Canadian Labor Congress, and about 5,000 activists at a peaceful rally calling on G8 and G20 leaders to take stronger leadership on a variety of progressive issues. Signs amidst the crowd were pushing issues ranging from climate and poverty alleviation to Tibetan freedom and bank reform. It was an impressive mix of progressive activists all coming together to speak with one voice for global change.
Despite the rain and nearly oppressive police presence, the spirit at the rally was ebullient and hopeful, and I walked away feeling excited as one often does from these rallies.
But then I walked into the International Media Center downtown to do some media work … and immediately felt all of that energy being sucked out of me in the gray, cavernous center. Inside, journalists and NGOs were busy scrutinizing the just-released G8 Muskoka Summit declaration. Climate-minded scrutinizers were hard pressed to find anything of interest — or anything new, in fact. It appears that the only accomplishment for G8 leaders this year when it comes to climate is that they managed not to backtrack on their previous commitments from past summits and Copenhagen.
They reiterated their support for a “comprehensive, ambitious, fair, effective, binding, post-2012 agreement,” but didn’t say a word as to how they play to achieve it after the failure in Copenhagen. They continued to acknowledge the science calling for warming to stay below 2 degrees, but made no mention of the gaping hole between this upper limit and the reality of the emission-reduction targets they’ve put on the table. They pledged to support climate resilience and adaptation efforts, but gave no details on how they’d do so.
Meanwhile, the huge screens hanging over the journalists in the center were showing the remaining G20 leaders’ planes landing ahead of the G20 summit, which started Saturday evening here in Toronto.
The question remains whether G20 leaders will also manage to avoid backtracking on their previous commitments as well. For days now, rumors have continued to fly that the G20 declaration being negotiated is set to step backward with respect to last year’s commitment to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.
Despite the terrible irony of watching gallons upon gallons of a certain fossil fuel spill into the Gulf, it seems G20 leaders are moving toward a weak statement on subsidies phaseout. They appear to be content having each country individually decide both what they consider to be a subsidy and also what they want to do about them. Certainly not a step forward, and almost definitely a step back from the strong language from last year’s summit in Pittsburgh.
The G20 summit didn’t officially start until Saturday evening, so perhaps some of that hope from the rally may keep me going for a while … but it’s dwindling fast.
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