All right, the more I read about this G8 climate agreement the more it becomes clear that the Bush administration completely outplayed the other developed countries on this. That, at least, they’re good at.
Blair, Merkel, and Sarkozy all went into the summit staking their credibility on forcing an agreement: mandatory emissions cuts based on a shared target. The U.S. said: f*ck you. They begged. They pleaded. The U.S. repeated: f*ck you.
Meanwhile, the U.S. made a canny counter-proposal: a series of new talks, including China and India, to stretch out 18 months and produce "aspirational goals." Obviously it’s toothless, but it did offer European leaders the chance to save some face and claim victory. It had the desired effect of dividing them and diluting the pressure on Bush. Blair, who is desperately casting about for a legacy other than the Iraq War, was quick to declare Bush’s tepid offer a breakthrough. Meanwhile, Sarkozy, who’s the new kid on the block and knows that Bush needs him as much as he needs Bush, noted dryly that the U.S. needs "to make another effort."
So after some intense lobbying, this is how far the U.S. was willing to move: it agreed to "seriously consider" the other developed countries’ target of 50% cuts by 2050. Having said unambiguously that it will not accept any hard targets, what reason is there to think the answer will change after serious consideration? It also agreed that climate negotiations should continue under UN auspices (strange world where this is a concession).
In exchange, the Euro leaders dropped their demands for hard targets, endorsed Bush’s toothless aspirational talks, and declared a "huge success." This is obviously making the best of a bad situation, returning to their expectant publics with something rather than nothing. But make no mistake: other than a vague acknowledgment of the problem and the need to cut some emissions, at some point, somehow, the U.S. basically gave the rest of the world the finger yet again.
The most revealing line I’ve read about it comes about halfway through this NYT piece:
When Mr. Bush turned to [Merkel] and said he has “a strong desire to work with you” on the issue, the chancellor pursed her lips.
Here’s the section on climate change from the G8 declaration (PDF):
We are therefore committed to taking strong and early action to tackle climate change in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
Taking into account the scientific knowledge as represented in the recent (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports, global greenhouse gas emissions must stop rising, followed by substantial global emission reductions.
In setting a global goal for emissions reductions in the process we have agreed today involving all major emitters, we will consider seriously the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050.