Climate-Change Accord Pale green

Posted: July 10, 2008

The G-8 summit concluded yesterday in Japan, with headlines about a climate-change agreement - and that President Bush had signed it. A big shift for Bush, said the headlines. A first.

Yes and no. It is notable that the president signed the accord, in which the eight nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by the year 2050. It was the first time Bush ever signed anything agreeing to a numerical goal. He refused at last year's G-8.

As president, Bush has opposed U.S. agreement to the Kyoto Protocols, has expressed doubts about climate science, and has regularly called reduction targets unrealistic. So this is different, and to be applauded. Bush now acknowledges what science has richly demonstrated for two decades: We must cut down on human contributions to climate change.

Of course, signing the G-8 accord doesn't cost Bush much, either, as he nears the end of his term. (Ironically, the signing coincides with a report that Vice President Cheney's staff censored expert congressional testimony about the health effects of climate change, according to a former EPA deputy administrator.)

In addition, this G-8 agreement is about as solid as a gas cloud. This is a goal, not a timetable. No one is obliged to move at any rate of speed at all; the Great 8 all are saying, "Yes, this would be a good idea." That goal is an incredibly long 42 years away, as far from this moment as 1966. And what's the starting level? What do we start decreasing from? The pollution of 2008? Cutting that in half would leave a much more polluted atmosphere than starting at the levels of, say, 1990, which many scientists want. The G-8 is mum on that. When will that be negotiated? Mum. So, as of now, this agrees "to cut an unspecified level by 50 percent within 42 years."

Overall, this G-8 summit was a mild, disappointing affair. The world is in wait-and-see mode until a new U.S. president is elected; the global economy is gloomy; unfinished business remains from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Such were the distractions. The climate-change accord at least let the big eight leaders act as though they'd done something.

It's gas, but at least not greenhouse gas.

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