As G20 Falters, More Pressure on US and OZ

As G20 Falters, More Pressure on US and OZ

Last weekend’s G20 summit failed to deliver anything new or strong on climate change action, most observers , while in Washington President Obama urged a bipartisan group of senators to put a “price” on carbon pollution, as they draft energy and climate legislation to pass this year. While in Australia there’s a call for economists to trust predictions from climate scientists and stop tinkering around the edges of the climate change debate.

Ron Johnson in Earth Island Journal (29 June 2010):

The G20 Summit is almost two years old. And like an infant approaching its terrible twos, the ad hoc gang of developed countries with no real structure or mandate is starting to get out of hand.

Heading into the G8 and G20 summits in Muskoka and Toronto, there were a number of areas where the developed countries had the opportunity to show leadership and initiative, and introduce progressive ideas. The results, to say the least, are mixed.

Following is a breakdown of key climate-related initiatives the world was hoping the summits might tackle, and what actually happened at this year’s G8 and G20:

1. Move forward with an aggressive plan to deal with the climate crisis and gain momentum heading into COP16 in Cancun. No such luck. Canada announced some fast track financing, but there were little to no new initiatives discussed at the G8 or G20, and the report coming out of the G8 in Muskoka is almost identical in tone and intent to previous commitments.
2. Get tough and eliminate the billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies to companies such as British Petroleum and other upstanding corporate citizens. Uh, wrong again. The whole eliminate fossil fuel subsidies thing must have been decided upon after a long night at the pub because G20 leaders this weekend seemed to be trying hard to forget it ever happened. 
3. Enact a tax on financial transactions, dubbed the “Robin Hood Tax,” and earmark the revenues for social spending and climate change. Yes! Nah, just kidding. Wouldn’t that be nice though? A simple .05 per cent tax on transactions from corporations raking in billions in profits and, well, bailout revenue, to go to progressive social and environmental programs. There was lip service paid to keeping banks in line, so that’s good… right?

Instead, with the global financial recovery in a tenuous state, security threats from North Korea and Iran, and deficit consolidation dominatng the conference, little to no attention was paid to so-called “non-economic mandates,” such as the future of life on our planet. Ahem.

“I mean, there has been very little substantial in the G20 on climate change issues,” said Kim Carstensen, WWF Global Climate Initiative. “It is the bare minimum of engagement, the bare minimum making reference to climate change at this level.”

Carstensen also voiced concern over the disturbing omission of any talk about clean energy in the final communique.

“In an earlier draft there was talk of an investment in clean energy and that was taken out completely,” he said. “There were eight references to clean energy in the final report from Pittsburgh (the last G20 Summit) and they have been completely vacuum cleaned and that is kind of scary.”

There was a report by Mexican President Felipe Calderon on the state of climate change negotiations leading up to the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico this November, but Calderon’s press conference following the plenary sessions was cancelled and little follow-up was offered.

“I think, there has been no back tracking,” said Carstensen, in an attempt to remain upbeat as the proceedings wrap up. “So if we want to stay where we are that is a good thing, but if we think climate change needs to move forward and be more ambitious, then this is definitely not a success.”

That leaves some scratching their heads wondering when the G20 is going to move beyond being a forum for the global economic recovery and start throwing its weight around on issues that are considered by many to be equally, if not far more, important.

“As climate change continues to gather pace, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable that are bearing the real costs. The G20 needs to get serious,” said Robert Bailey of Oxfam International.

All eyes now turn to Cancun, Mexico where this November the United Nations countries will meet to try and hammer home a progressive and binding climate change agreement.

Following are the three paragraphs included with regard to climate change and environmental issue from the Toronto Declaration:

41. We reiterate our commitment to a green recovery and to sustainable global growth. Those of us who have associated with the Copenhagen Accord reaffirm our support for it and its implementation and call on others to associate with it. We are committed to engage in negotiations under the UNFCCC on the basis of its objective provisions and principles including common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and are determined to ensure a successful outcome through an inclusive process at the Cancun Conferences. We thank Mexico for undertaking to host the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 16) in Cancun from November 29 to December 20, 2010 and express our appreciation for its efforts to facilitate negotiations. We look forward to the outcome of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing which is, inter alia, exploring innovative finance.

42. We note with appreciation the report on energy subsidies from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), OECD and World Bank. We welcome the work of Finance and Energy Ministers in delivering implementation strategies and timeframes, based on national circumstances, for the rationalization and phase out over the medium term of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, taking into account vulnerable groups and their development needs. We also encourage continued and full implementation of country-specific strategies and will continue to review progress towards this commitment at upcoming summits.

43. Following the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico we recognize the need to share best practices to protect the marine environment, prevent accidents related to offshore exploration and development, as well as transportation, and deal with their consequences.

Ron Johnson is based in Toronto, Canada, where he is an editor for Post City magazines and contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, The National Post and the London Business Times. He is covering the G20 Summit (2010) in Toronto for Earth Island Journal.


By Linda Feldmann, Staff writer in Christian Science Monitor (29 June 2010):

President Obama urged a bipartisan group of senators Tuesday to put a “price” on carbon pollution, as they draft energy and climate legislation the White House hopes to pass this year.

Many Republicans call carbon pricing a “tax” that would harm the already-ailing economy, and therefore they oppose it. But in the eyes of many Democrats, including Mr. Obama, a “polluter pays” provision in the legislation will help reduce America’s unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.

“The president told the senators that he still believes the best way for us to transition to a clean energy economy is with a bill that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America’s businesses by putting a price on pollution – because when companies pollute, they should be responsible for the costs to the environment and their contribution to climate change,” according to a White House readout of the closed-door session with about 20 senators.

“Not all of the senators agreed with this approach,” the statement added, “and the president welcomed other approaches and ideas.”

Democratic senators who attended the meeting said afterward that Obama argued passionately for pricing carbon emissions. But they also acknowledged Republican resistance, and are trying to find a compromise that can win enough votes to pass. One Senate leader on the issue, John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, said he and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut are ready to “scale back the reach of our legislation” to gain more support.

Last year, the House passed energy and climate-change legislation, but its ambitious “cap and trade” system for limiting carbon emissions is a nonstarter in the Senate.

Still, Senator Lieberman, speaking from the White House driveway after Tuesday’s meeting, sounded an encouraging note on the prospect for compromise with Republicans.

“A very important thing that happened around the table is that some of our colleagues who up until this time had been at least publicly reluctant about the polluter pays, putting a price on carbon pollution, said that they’d be willing to discuss limited terms of doing that in this bill. And to me that’s a breakthrough,” Lieberman said, according to ABC News.

One possibility is to cap carbon emissions on utilities, but not on manufacturing or transportation, Senator Kerry said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, another attendee at the meeting, said that as long as a “national energy tax” was off the table, he saw “no reason why we can’t have clean energy legislation.”

Finishing energy legislation by the end of the year could be a long throw. The Gulf oil spill has added fresh urgency to the issue, and the bill could raise the liability caps on oil companies and impose stricter rules on offshore drilling.

But Democrats are hoping to achieve much more, as the clock winds down on their large majorities in Congress. The death Monday of Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia adds another wrinkle to the party’s drive for energy reform. Though Senator Byrd represented a coal state, he had shown recent signs of willingness to compromise on the carbon emissions question. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) has yet to appoint a successor, but whoever it is may not be so flexible.


Phillip Thomson in Canberra Times (29 June 2010):

Economists must trust predictions from climate scientists and stop tinkering around the edges of the climate change debate, a top federal bureaucrat said last night.

The secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Martin Parkinson, used the 2010 Sir Leslie Melville lecture to argue economists had not been adding enough to the national carbon pricing conversation. ”Despite 15 years of thinking on this issue, there are few Australian economists who could discuss any of the emissions trading scheme’s design concepts, choices and trade-offs in detail,” Dr Parkinson said.

The lecture at the Australian National University in Canberra was the ninth of its kind to honour Sir Leslie Melville, the late executive director for Australia at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Dr Parkinson said foresight of the kind Sir Leslie had would be needed to introduce an emissions trading scheme.

Economists Ross Garnaut and Warwick McKibbin were, in Dr Parkinson’s words, two rarities who had the in-depth knowledge of abatement schemes needed to lower carbon use. Dr Parkinson, an economist and former Australian Treasury deputy secretary, said the economic community needed to embrace a gradual transition to greenhouse gas reduction.

”Economists prefer to be pure in their proposed solutions to problems and are suspicious of politically negotiated outcomes and transitional assistance,” he said.

There have been unsuccessful attempts to introduce a carbon price for 15 years.

Dr Parkinson said this should not be considered failed economic reform.

The GST was an example of a policy discussed and attempted 15 years before being brought in.

”Tariff reform was formally proposed by the Tariff Board in the mid-1960s … and debate has continued over the 40-plus years since the Tariff Board’s original proposals.

”Stiff opposition was a regular occurrence in relation to proposals to reform indirect taxation, the labour market and tariffs.

”For example, the gold industry was adamant that it would cease if gold’s tax exempt status were removed.”

Lack of serious engagement from economists about climate change had deprived the public of important information. He put forward the argument that economists should believe in climate change because of the evidence provided by the scientific community.

”It is probably reasonable that economists without expertise in the relevant scientific disciplines should let scientists be the professional experts in this area,” he said.


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