G8 to Act on Climate Change, Later... Maybe

Feature story - June 7, 2007
In the lead up to this year's summit, leaked documents made it clear there was a distinct split among the G8 on the issue of climate change. After all, seven of the member countries have committed to the Kyoto Protocol's binding reductions of greenhouse gas emissions - while the US (far and away the worst offender) has not.


Deal brokered

Traditionally, this sort of thing is smoothed over beforehand. However, this time governments kept fighting publicly until this afternoon. In the end, the divisions got smoothed over with a thin spackle of rhetoric. Most likely the politicians feel quite satisfied at having avoided a public disagreement.  But the differences remain obvious for all to see. The final document agreed by the G8 also contains a promise that all leaders will "seriously consider" the binding emission cuts the EU and almost all G8 members have committed to. In other words, Bush will watch, while the rest of the world, hopefully, acts.  

The deal is "clearly not enough to prevent dangerous climate change" said Daniel Mittler, climate policy advisor of Greenpeace International at the summit. "Governments failed to commit to what science tells us is necessary here. They must now urgently do so at the United Nations."

What these leaders, of the world's wealthiest nations, fail to take into account is that reducing CO2 emissions by 50 percent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050 is not a negotiable diplomatic point - it is a physical reality.  And, as we've already learned from the last 15 years, voluntary measures simply don't work.

Politics aside, the G8 are responsible for over 80 percent of the climate change we witness today, and still emit over 40 percent of all global emissions. They are therefore morally bound to act first and act firmly.  

Silver lining in a cloudy sky

The isolation of the US on climate change was at least further exposed through this whole process - leaving the Bush Administration scrambling for diversionary tactics.

Today's document also confirms that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the best way forward, which sets back Bush's plan for a US controlled parallel process. This means, that the road is clear for real negotiations on binding emission cuts to start in earnest at the next climate meeting in Bali in December this year.

Though as Greenpeace UK director John Sauven pointed out, "Scientists tell us we need to slash emissions over the next decade if we're to have a chance of preventing dangerous climate change. This document acknowledges the seriousness of the situation then ducks reality by offering weasel words like 'seriously considering', as if this was an after dinner discussion rather than the most important issue facing the world."

Into the exclusion zone

Tens of thousands of people have been peacefully protesting these past days, both at Heiligendamm and at an alternative summit - trying to get the message through to the G8 that the time to act is now.

Yesterday, German police pre-emptively boarded our ship, the Arctic Sunrise - even though it was well outside the summit's exclusion zone. The police came on without a search warrant and confined the 24 crew before seizing Greenpeace equipment including engines from inflatables, making the boats unusable, and the hull of a Greenpeace hot air balloon.  

This morning, 24 Greenpeace activists, using 11 speedboats took the message "G8: Act Now!" to the waters around the beachfront summit hotel. They entered the outer restricted area at 11am, informing the police as they did so. They came in from both east and west sides, entering into the inner restricted zone 10 minutes later.

Police boats ran over some of the Greenpeace boats - injuring six activists and sending several to the hospital. Fortunately, no one suffered more than severe bruising. The activists were trying to deliver a petition calling for clear commitments on climate change.

At last report, the boats and 19 activists were in police custody.

The next major UN Climate Conference will be in Bali, Indonesia, December 2007. Governments there must commit to the reductions that science requires, to stop catastrophic climate change.

-- More updates and background on our G8 page --