The NYT‘s Andy Revkin dissed the G8 climate statement with the blog headline, “Rich and Emerging Greenhouse-Gas Emitters Fail to Set Common Long-Term Goal for Cuts.” The headline of the NYT‘s article on the subject, however, is “Richest Nations Pledge to Halve Greenhouse Gas.” The Grist story begins, “world leaders reached a landmark deal: agreeing to cut emissions in half by 2050,” calling it a “significant step” for the Bush Administration, whereas NRDC’s international climate policy director, Jake Schmidt, blogs, “Yup, Just as I Predicted … No G8 Leadership!“
What is going on? You can read the “G8 statement on climate change and environment” and decide for yourself.
I think your reaction depends on whether you are a “glass is 90 percent empty” or “glass is 10 percent full” type of person and whether you judge the president on the relative basis of his dismal, pathetic, unconscionable climate record (in which case what he agreed to at the G8 was a big deal) or on an absolute basis of what needs to be done to avoid catastrophic climate impacts for the next 10 billion people to walk the earth (in which case what the G8 did was give a placebo to a diabetic — a sugar-coated placebo, that is).
The Guardian online asked for my commentary, “Ignoring the climate change alarm.” Here are some excerpts:
In November, [IPCC head] Rajendra Pachauri, said: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” And remember that Pachauri was handpicked by the Bush administration to replace the “alarmist” Bob Watson.
Now compare his alarm call to the nonchalant language of the Declaration on Environment and Climate Change from the G8: “We recognise the importance of setting mid-term, aspirational goals for energy efficiency.” Translation: hit the snooze button.
Some people seem excited by the fact that Bush signed a G8 deal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But here are three reasons this won’t keep any insomniacs awake.
First, the G8’s statement on the matter was:
We seek to share with all Parties to the UNFCCC the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050, recognising that this global challenge can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”
The language couldn’t be any more watered down than if it had been in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Second, what is the baseline for this 50 percent reduction? Today’s level of emissions? The text doesn’t say. In fact, we probably need a 50 percent cut from 1990 levels.
Third, who really cares if the G8 pledges to share their vision and to consider and adopt a global “goal” of a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2050? What we need to know is not what the G8 thinks the world must do but rather what the G8 itself is prepared to do by 2050 — and by 2020. At a minimum, the G8 needs to establish firm targets and timetables that return to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. If the state of California can make such commitments, the G8 can …
Bush will have one of two historical legacies. First, the next president of the United States, together with Congress and the American people and the rest of the world, could sharply reject and reverse Bush’s energy and climate policies. That might save the climate and leave Bush’s administration as a small historical footnote — an utterly irrelevant anti-science president.
Alternately, the U.S. and the world might fail to overcome Bush’s lost decade. Then future generations will view him bitterly as the man who, more than anyone else on the planet, ruined their health and well-being. Let’s all hope and pray we end up with the irrelevant Bush.