Climate change being discussed at the G8 summit

Picture 590Global climate change is being discussed intensely this week at the G8 summit in Italy. The G8 leaders just release a “Declaration of the leaders: the majority economies forum on energy and climate” which can be downloaded as a PDF here.  Some of the highlights:

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. As leaders of the world’s major economies, both developed and developing, we intend to respond vigorously to this challenge, being convinced that climate change poses a clear danger requiring an extraordinary global response, that the response should respect the priority of economic and social development of developing countries, that moving to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to promote continued economic growth and sustainable development, that the need for and deployment of transformational clean energy technologies at lowest possible cost are urgent, and that the response must involve balanced attention to mitigation and adaptation.

Our countries will undertake transparent nationally appropriate mitigation actions, subject to applicable measurement, reporting, and verification, and prepare low-carbon growth plans. Developed countries among us will take the lead by promptly undertaking robust aggregate and individual reductions in the midterm consistent with our respective ambitious long-term objectives and will work together before Copenhagen to achieve a strong result in this regard.

Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is essential. Such effects are already taking place. Further, while increased mitigation efforts will reduce climate impacts, even the most aggressive mitigation efforts will not eliminate the need for substantial adaptation, particularly in developing countries which will be disproportionately affected. There is a particular and immediate need to assist the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to such effects. Not only are they most affected but they have contributed the least to the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

We are establishing a Global Partnership to drive transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies. We will dramatically increase and coordinate public sector investments in research, development, and demonstration of these technologies, with a view to doubling such investments by 2015, while recognizing the importance of private investment, public-private partnerships and international cooperation, including regional innovation centers. Drawing on global best practice policies, we undertake to remove barriers, establish incentives, enhance capacity-building, and implement appropriate measures to aggressively accelerate deployment and transfer of key existing and new low-carbon technologies, in accordance with national circumstances. We welcome the leadership of individual countries to spearhead efforts among interested countries to advance actions on technologies such as energy efficiency; solar energy; smart grids; carbon capture, use, and storage; advanced vehicles; high-efficiency and lower-emissions coal technologies; bio-energy; and other clean technologies.

It all sounds great, but there aren’t a lot of specifics on how the goals will be met.

One of the setbacks at the summit was the (non-surprising) refusal by India and China to commit to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  Peter Baker reports on this in the NYT here:

If he [Obama] cannot ultimately bring along developing countries, no climate deal will be effective.

While the richest countries have produced the bulk of the pollution blamed for climate change, developing countries are producing increasing volumes of gases. But developing countries say their climb out of poverty should not be halted to fix damage done by industrial countries.

As various sides tried to draft an agreement to sign Thursday, those tensions scuttled the specific goals sought by the United States and Europe. The proposed agreement called for worldwide emissions to be cut 50 percent by 2050, with industrial countries cutting theirs by 80 percent. But emerging powers refused to agree because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in the next decade and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help for poorer nations.

The declaration also states “We recognize the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C.”  But is this really a scientific view?  I think it is a social or political goal, but I don’t think we know exactly how a 2 degree increase will differ from a 3 or 4 degree increase.  I.e., we don’t know where the tipping point is. See the very nice discussion (with expert commentary from Stephen H. Schneider, Kenneth Caldeira and others) on the merits of the 2 degree solution being discussed so much this week at the G8 meeting on Dot Earth here.

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