Foreign Policy Blogs

"The Shape of Things to Come"*

Sorry that I've been off the air since early last week.  Wednesday through Friday, I was attending the annual conference of an international scholarly association, for which I am the newsletter editor.  I also gave a paper there.  Saturday, it was an all-day rugby tournament, a fundraiser for an injured clubmate of ours.  Yesterday, I observed the Sabbath for its original intended purpose:  Rest!

Last week, as you are no doubt aware, was a big week for the issue of climate change.  The big news was out of the G-8 Summit in Germany.  The summit followed on the heels of President Bush's announcement on May 31 that he wanted a "long-term global goal" for reducing GHG and that he was going to invite the top fifteen industrial emitters, including China and India, to talks to find ways to reduce emissions.  In my post on this from June 1, The White House, I said that at least some of "the proof of the pudding" would be in the strength of the final communiqué on climate change from the summit.  Not surprisingly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's fervent wish to have firm commitments from the G-8 nations to a 50% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 was not realized.  Bush derailed that.  What she essentially got was a commitment from the U.S. to try.  Bush has said and continues to say that he opposes any system that would cap emissions.  That has not changed and it appears it will not change.  So the U.S. Congress, it would appear, will have no shot to achieve a federal cap-and-trade system prior to Bush leaving the White House in 2009.  So, climate change, as I wrote on April 11 under Presidential Candidates, is a very big campaign issue.  (I will write next about the status of proposed federal legislation.)

On the question of how to get there, the EU and members of the G-8 and environmental groups all agree on the primacy of the U.N. process.  Talks are scheduled for this coming December in Bali to move to whatever regime will replace the Kyoto rules after they expire in 2012.  "The German Chancellor was very pleased that the G8 leaders were in agreement that these joint efforts on climate protection should lead into a UN process."  The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, said "The green light has been given for negotiations to begin on a comprehensive, flexible and fair agreement"

Merkel, a physicist by trade and passionately committed to obviating the threat of a climate change crisis, invited the leadership from the "G-5" countries of China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, the five biggest emerging economies, to talks.  Although these have resisted the call for binding targets for GHG reductions, they seem to be moving toward addressing the issue much more seriously than before.  The G-8 and the five developing economies will henceforward cooperate on an ongoing basis under the auspices of the OECD.  According to the G-8 release:  "The partners intend to achieve tangible results by 2009 as regards climate protection technologies."  The joint statement by Merkel and the five nations said:  " we remain committed to contribute our fair share to tackle climate change in order to stabilize green house gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. To this end we need a flexible, fair and effective global framework and concerted international action."  Technology transfer on energy efficiency and renewables will be at the top of the agenda for this particular initiative.

For the full text of the final G-8 communiqué, go to this pdf file.  The relevant material on "Climate Change, Energy Efficiency And Energy Security" can be found on pages 14 to 29.

Prior to the summit, China released its "National Climate Change Programme."  This article from the Worldwatch Institute describes the plan:  "Rather than setting a direct target for the reduction or avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions " the government "aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20 percent by 2010," and "to increase the share of renewable energy (including large hydropower) in primary energy provision to some 10 percent and to cover roughly 20 percent of the nation's land with forest."  See also this from a "NY Times" article from June 4:  ""Our general stance is that China will not commit to any quantified emissions reduction targets, but that does not mean we will not assume responsibilities in responding to climate change,' said Ma Kai, head of China's powerful economic planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission."

Meanwhile,  here's an article titled "Indian PM sets up council on climate change."  In sum:  " while India sticks to its traditional stand of refusing to accept quantitative targets on reducing carbon-emitting greenhouse gas use, the government is slowly coming around to the idea that an agreement on reductions could be conditional on explicit subsidies on clean technologies from the developed world."

This perspective, from "The Telegraph" in Britain, asserts that, perhaps ominously, India and China are joining forces to resist any efforts by the G-8, the UN or anyone else to cut back on their energy consumption at the expense of economic development.

In another important international development, Australia's PM John Howard, has switched gears and now has announced a plan to create a national emissions-trading scheme by 2012.  See "Australia announces cap-and-trade plan" from, a very interesting omnibus news service.  Howard is in the political fight of his life with the Australian Labor Party for control of the parliament in elections coming up this fall.  The ALP leader, Kevin Rudd, has made climate change one of his areas of expertise and he is pushing it very hard as an issue.  Peter Garrett, the rock star and Labor MP, are in the forefront on this and are clearly driving the debate forward.  See this recent article from them:  "Credible Credits: A National Standard For Carbon Offsets."

So, it seems to me that the international pressure from governments like Germany's and Britain's, and the EU (see my post from March 14 on these), the push from the UN and the evidence from its scientists in the IPCC, and the overwhelming push from environmental groups and, not incidentally, general publics from all over the world plus the chorus of voices from the international business and finance communities , all this activity is driving even the recalcitrant ones, like the Bush and Howard administrations, and the monster developing economies of India and China and their governments, into the light of recognition that climate change and environmental protection are no longer to be ignored.  The scales are falling now from even some of the blindest eyes. 

* A novel from 1933 by H.G. Wells, who also wrote the screenplay for "Things to Come," which was, according to one film historian, "a landmark in cinematic design."  If you want to read the book, you can go here for an online edition.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change