Friday, 25 June 2010

G8 / G20 weak climate commitments get weaker -- by Geordie Gwalgen Dent

This is part 3 of a week-long series by Geordie Gwalgen Dent on the Toronto Media Co-op website. See parts one (world health), two (economic "reform"), and four (native issues), and its protest coverage.

With environment being a key focus for for global foreign policy and with Copenhagen plans in limbo, the Canadian government's decision to take climate change off the G8 agenda in May drew fire from environmental groups, the UN and other G8/20 countries.

The decision, highlighted by Stephen Harper's May declaration that all other issues besides the economy were 'sideshows', was also underscored by Canada's decision not to hold a a G8 environmental ministers meeting before the summit, the first time the meeting hasn't been held since 1994.

Last week, the Canadian government decided to put climate change back on the agenda of both summits. Such an idea has been pushed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon since last year. Ki-moon has not been invited to attend the summit.

While the Canadian government has backpedaled on climate being on the agenda, it is unclear whether being on the agenda will lead to any tangible results.

Proof is in the Pudding

Several climate plans have been released at previous G8 summits including plans on carbon emissions and biodiversity with targets coming up in 2010. Previous comments in 2010 have suggested the G8 will also discuss phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, while preparing for a UN climate summit in Mexico this year to solidify the results of the disastrous Copenhagen summit.

Scott Harris, an organizer with the Council of Canadians, isn't buying it. "Some of the issues they are tackling are positive [but] if you look at the history of promises coming out of the G7/8, they are very bad at keeping them." Harris points out that the 2005 pledge by the G8 to double aid to Africa by 2010 is currently $20 billion short of the goal. Meanwhile, last years commitment to a $20 billion food security program by 2010 has only generated $800 million. "I’m not sure of the number but roughly 50 commitments are due for 2010. [The G8] makes roughly 200 commitments a year going back to 1997. The G8/20 make a lot of big promises, but the proof is in the pudding and they do not come through on promises in any way," he said.

"In Pittsburgh they said that they were going to seriously phase out fossil fuel subsidies but we’ve only seen increases," says Kimia Ghomeshi, a G20 / Climate Organizer with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. She points out that though commitments were made at Kyoto in the late 90’s, emissions have continued to rise.

Sakura Saunders, editor of, isn't even sure how some commitments would be implemented. "I think ending fuel subsidies is great, but it's going to have negative consequences. People are dependent are these things and I'm concerned it would be implemented badly. For example, Venezuela has the worlds largest fuel subsidies," she said. "Would [the G8/20] be trying to end the subsidies on a global scale? Or just G20 countries?"

Commitments aside, unlike the detailed plans released for economic or health plans, Harper has only said that "some issues surrounding climate change" will be discussed "on the margins".

Other Forums For Talks

Ghomeshi says she is "not surprised" by G8's failures on climate change. "I don’t think [the G8/20] are accountable or competent. They do not have administrative structure. The Harper government has no interest in climate change. We’re not a leader in climate change [policy] and we’re the worst performing G8 country [in carbon emissions]. What they want to do is continue business as usual."

Besides subsidies and emissions, Ghomeshi and Saunders say other issues like local, renewable, community energy infrastructure, climate reparations, and international environmental law should be on the table in talks on the environment. "The G20 owes $141 billion a year for climate debt to the Global South as well as indigenous communities," says Ghomeshi.

Where do they see these issues being addressed?

For Harris, the choice is obvious: "The G20 has been presented as more legitimate than the G8 because it represents 2/3rds of the population and 85% of global economic output. But we don’t think they are; they exclude 172 countries and 1/3rd of the world's population. We believe these issues should be dealt with at the UN."

Ghomeshi believes the Cochabamba Summit held in Bolivia this year is a far better model. "I had the opportunity to go to Cochabamba in April and that was really inspiring and monumental for me. After going to two UN conferences what I saw was impacted communities taking the lead on issues that impact them the most. A people’s declaration was submitted to the UN," she said.

Toronto Days of Action Continue

In Toronto, two events yesterday targeting the G8/20 focused primarily on climate issues.

The 'Toxic Tour' [see video above] saw 300-400 people visiting key players in Canada's mining industries in Toronto's downtown. Canada is home to 75% of the worlds mining companies including the notorious tar sands. Mining companies Barrick Gold and Gold Corp were targeted as well as Royal Bank of Canada (a major tar sands investor), Enbridge (an oil and gas distributer) and many others.

Later in the evening on 23 June, there was a People's Assembly on climate justice. Brett Rhyno, an Organizer with the Toronto Climate Campaign for "Kyotoplus", says that the meeting, inspired by the Cochabamba Summit, discussed the need for
* a moratorium on the tar sands
* changing energy usage
* changing consumption
* indigenous sovereignty.

For Ghomeshi, the Toronto assembly is a local way to address climate issues democratically. "People get to talk about their communities and provide good work and address those inequalities," she said.
See also analysis of the rich nations' Copenhagen Accord tactics, reports on the Cochabamba climate justice movement, and the desperate call by the UN for support of Millenium Development Goals.

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