Stunt: G8 leaders cooking the planet need a recipe to stop climate change

Gx climate dynamix

The real shift in power dynamics toward the G5 countries – Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa – is striking. Their leaders ride in police-escorted buses from their own buildings, their packed press conferences are now held in the main Summit site, their correspondents throng the media center and they even have their own page on the official G8 site. They are no longer the “Outreach 5”. All this attracts speculation (see also NPR).

Today, the G8 met with the G5 plus Egypt, and then with Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and Denmark as the “Major Economies Forum” (MEF) to discuss climate. Tomorrow, this same group plus a range of African countries, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey will discuss food security. But the big question is: “Will any ‘GX’ take real action on the thorniest global challenges that humanity faces?” 

For a start, any agreement will be stronger and more meaningful if key countries are on board. So, having 17 countries in the MEF all agree the global average temperature “ought not” to exceed 2°C warming over pre-industrial levels is a powerful shift. They’ve committed themselves to a common science-based pathway and we can now compare their future actions against a critical benchmark.

The other benefit of the MEF is that it’s a counterweight to the rich country club. In L’Aquila its voice has been closer to what needs to be done to avoid a 2 degree increase: at least 40% cuts from rich countries by 2020 relative to 1990 levels; putting adaptation on equal footing, and prioritizing adaptation support for vulnerable countries. The G8, on the other hand, cited a baseline figure of 1990 or more recent years, which effectively creates a shopping list of 18 different baseline years that G8 countries can feel free to select from on which to base their carbon cuts!

The G5 represents nearly half of humanity and that’s a good reason to believe it will prioritize the needs of their billions of citizens better than the G8 alone ever would.  The G5 statement even suggests they’re more concerned about other, even more vulnerable developing countries.

However, the more players in the GX, the harder it is to get consensus and the easier it is to play the “blame game”. Already, Italy has complained that China blocked the MEF on pursuing a global goal of 50% reductions by 2050. I’m convinced there’s no escaping the blame game in the Bali-Copenhagen process.

In the end, the GX countries comprise a ‘moral community’ that must develop norms and standards of conduct to guide what’s deemed appropriate collective behavior. Because tackling climate change involves sweeping lifestyle changes it helps to have a forum that represents the nations responsible for 80% of global emissions talking about what’s fair and why.  If we need to work through the blame game to eventually agree robust mid-term targets and large-scale finance from rich countries, it might just be worth it.

An expanding GX does give the illusion of legitimacy. While the G5 statement suggests they are looking out for their more vulnerable partners, we already know that AOSIS and many other vulnerable developing countries believe that even trying to limit warming to 2 degrees is inadequate (they’re calling for a 1.5 degree cap to guarantee their own survival), and that global emissions by 2050 need to be at least 85% below 2020, not just 50%.
On balance, the G8’s days are numbered and the GX, as long as it drops all pretence of representative legitimacy, it might be a step in the right direction. However big the GX turns out to be, its greatest challenge on climate issues is to change the political dynamic of the current global climate regime. This dynamic was best described by a veteran climate negotiator from one least-developed country who I talked to recently: “Polluters get paid, victims lose all.”

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