G8 - Environment Nil!

Feature story - 9 July, 2008
When you're in the business of saving the future - and you give yourself a specific deadline, such as 2050 - you need to make sure that every single day between then and now counts. Unfortunately, the G8 Summit was a waste of three whole days. Gathering in Toyako, Japan, G8 leaders offered nothing new on the food crisis, gave the wrong answer to rising oil prices and deferred climate action.

George Bush attends his last ever G8 Summit - so it's not all bad news, then...

Our political advisor, Daniel Mittler, who was in Toyako throughout, has been providing regular updates: from the wet and dismal start to the proceedings, through the G8's working lunches, working dinners and working lunches while discussing the global food crisis, and to the bitter end - a final statement that showed they hadn't made much progress whatsoever.

So what have we learned from the G8's three wasted days?

1.    Never do today what you can keep putting off until tomorrow...

Global emissions have to start falling by 2015 and must be cut by more than 50 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. With the G8 countries accounting for 62 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, it's clear that industrialised countries need to take the lead, cutting emissions by at least 30 percent by 2020, and by between 80 and 90 percent by 2050.

The G8 in fact called on the world to aim for a 50 percent goal - and not more - in 2050, and failed to give any clear commitments on mid-term measures; this is simply not good enough. We need action today.

The World Bank Climate Investment Funds that the G8 has announced do not even exclude coal, the world's most polluting energy source. Unless we end our addiction to fossil fuels and start an energy revolution based on renewable energy and energy efficiency now, the world of 2050 will be a nightmarish one indeed.

All the G8 leaders have effectively done is postpone the responsibility for tackling global climate change to future generations; to the politicians who succeed them, and to the children who will have to live in the nightmare world of 2050 as envisioned by the G8.

2.    Never miss the opportunity - whatever the crisis - to make a quick sale…

Bush, Berlusconi and others have used the G8 meeting to act as lobbyists for their own energy giants, trying to sell dangerous, expensive and uninsurable nuclear power plants.

It's a fact that nuclear energy today is based on risky reactors, leads to proliferation and security hazards and produces long lived deadly nuclear waste with no solution for its safe disposal.

To say that nuclear power will save the climate is absurd and downright dangerous. We need solutions based on renewables and energy efficiency to defeat climate change and ensure true energy security.

It's not even as though it's difficult for the G8 to find these solutions - we set it all out, loud and clear, for them in our Energy [R]evolution scenario last year. Maybe it's time for the G8 leaders to get their heads down into reading this report, instead of having their heads in the (hopefully, not mushroom-shaped) clouds.

3.    You can have your cake and eat it - so long as it's genetically modified…

It's said, "You are what you eat." Yet, the G8 continues to support treating our soil like dirt, contaminating our water with toxic chemicals and the planting of more GE crops that yield less and fail under bad weather conditions.

Industrial agriculture has undermined global food security and led us to a food crisis. Rather than shift public investment to proven ecological methods that provide higher yields, better food and more resilience to climate change, the G8 leaders repeat their usual mantra that countries should rely on the global market for their food security.

On top of this, Bush, Berlusconi and others have been pushing for genetically engineered food as the solution to the food crisis. They pretend that liberalising trade will lower food prices. It has not and will not - all it will do is drive poor farmers, especially those in the developing world, off their land.

We need farming that is ecological and biodiverse, rather than continuing with chemical-intensive farming or pursuing the false promise of genetic engineering. We need public investment in research and development on ecological and climate change resilient farming; the end of funding for GE crops and the prohibition of patents on seeds; and the phasing out of the most toxic chemicals and the elimination of environmentally-destructive agricultural subsidies.

It was time for G8 leaders to admit that their old policies have failed and that they need to start building a trade system based on equity and sustainability; that 'business as usual' is not an option. Instead, they fell back on their usual ritual of calling for a swift end to the Doha Round of trade talks, failing to recognise that further trade liberalisation will spell disaster for poor people and the environment.

As Daniel Mittler's reports show, the G8 leaders had plenty of food…but little thought.

4.    Acknowledge the problem, and hopefully it'll go away…

The G8 acknowledged there are unsustainable biofuels - but didn't do anything about them.

Due to this inaction even more land will be diverted away from food production - mandatory biofuel targets in developed countries need to be suspended and legislation introduced to ensure biofuel production does not threaten food security, particularly in developing countries.

And due to this inaction, even more forests will be felled - increasing global climate change.  Protecting intact forests is crucial for preserving biodiversity and combating climate change.

Oil is running out, but the answer to the world's transport needs does not lie with unsustainable biofuels. In order to satisfy the rich world's addiction to cars, instead we are simply driving deforestation, driving the food crisis and driving climate change.

It seems the G8 may have driven through all the climate red lights and stop signs in Toyako.

5.    Always look on the bright side of life…

While the Arctic ice is melting, the G8 froze into inaction. Instead of protecting the climate, the G8 effectively protected the interests of industry, most notably the nuclear and GE industries. We're no further forward than where we were a year ago, at the last G8 meeting in Heiligendamm.

But, the one good thing about this G8 meeting is that it was US President George W. Bush's last.

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