I arrived in Toronto yesterday and, along with thousands of activists, media, and government officials arriving for the upcoming G8 and G20 summits, was promplty greeted by an unusual earthquake centered a few hours away outside of Ottawa.  Unfortunately, if our Canadian hosts have their way, that could be the only groundbreaking event I’ll witness this week.

Over the past few days, official and leaked documents have been hitting the press that paint a sorry picture, considering the pledges and promises of G8 and G20 leaders over the past few years.  It’s a startling fact that climate change is basically sidelined at the summits here in Canada, after 2009 saw world leaders grabbing every opportunity they could to talk climate.

On Sunday, the G8’s “Muskoka Accountability Report” was released ahead of tomorrow’s summit.  It contains a review of “recent G8 commitments related to development, assesses the results of G8 actions and identifies lessons for future reporting.”  It indeed has an annex on Environment and Energy, but ufnortunately it’s lacking in detail.

WWF put out a press release expressing some fundamental concerns.  Most importantly, the report doesn’t even mention progress towards the G8’s stated goal of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. 

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“If anything should be in the Accountability Report, even one focused on development, it should be climate change. The G8 — and now G20 — should be sending clear messages to the rest of the world that they are working to cut emissions to reduce impacts on the most vulnerable, and stimulate a low carbon economy for all,” said Kim Carstensen, leader of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative.

As for the G20, Greenpeace released a leaked copy of the draft G20 declaration on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, it shows a move backward from last year’s goal of eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies.  The draft statement sites the need for “voluntary, member-specific approaches,” to ending fossil-fuel subsidies, a major dilution of last year’s commitment “to phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest.”

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At a time when oil continues to gush at immense rates in the Gulf, it’s a terrible irony that only a few thousand miles away, leaders might backtrack on eliminating unfair, inefficient, and unnecessary subsidies to a dirty industry.

Here’s what Greenpeace’s Dave Martin had to say:

This is a major climb-down from the G20’s position last year to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Greenpeace welcomed the G20 commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies last year. Now it seems that their promise was as well thought out as a deepwater drilling plan. The G20 needs to stop the gusher of public money that is spewing into the coffers of Big Oil and coal.

What’s more, Canada announced yesterday its share of the fast-start financing pledged in the Copenhagen Accord.  As Climate Action Network Canada’s Graham Saul said, “The government has taken a step in the right direction today with the announcement of $400 million this fiscal year to support action on climate change in developing countries, but we need to make sure that they are not getting this money by raiding the aid budget. Where is this money is coming from and where it is going?”

That is, are these pledges just “climate-washed” money that had already been allocated to development or health programs, or is it legitimate, new resources flowing as they should to this ever growing problem?  The G8 countries would be well-served to clarify the sources and additionality of their pledges, ideally with an aim towards ensuring climate funds are new and additional to existing development funding.

Will things turn around in the coming days?  Well, we can always hope.  If leaders come to Toronto and push climate onto the agenda (despite Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s best wishes), clarify their intentions to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies, and make good on their pledges to reduce emissions and support developing country climate needs, we might have another earthshaking event.  But unfortunately, everyone’s been telling me earthquakes appear to be quite rare in Ontario.