Was the G8 summit good for the prospects of limiting global climate change? Scientists and campaigners comment on the Gleneagles outcome. My answer to this question is below. To see all of the contributions- from Mayer Hillman, Camilla Toulmin &Saleemul Huq, Stephen Harrison, and Aubrey Meyer- click here. Published on openDemocracy on 12 July 2005.



Beyond the text

Labouring mightily to produce textual mice is an inevitable feature of the increasingly bizarre, and expensive, circus that the G8 has become. Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was far-sighted and courageous in setting climate change as one of the principal goals for his presidency of it. There was always a risk of failure and the intervention of the London bombers prevented the nature of that failure from becoming more apparent.

Blair’s primary goal was to get the United States administration to accept the strength of scientific opinion that now calls with increasing urgency for action on climate change. Many of those who have parsed the text of the communiqué have already pointed out that President Bush went no further than he has gone before. Indeed, parts of the document repeat almost word for word some of his (rare) comments on the subject.

Some have damned the Gleneagles document because it contains no new targets and timetables; others have, in a fit of ill-informed enthusiasm, praised it as the most important text on climate change since the Kyoto Protocol. Neither are right. Like the priest he often resembles, Tony Blair’s efforts have resulted in the proverbial curate’s egg.

The G8 is a political process, not a policy negotiation. It was never going to discuss, let alone agree on, new emissions targets and timetables. Those discussions, to be meaningful, must take place inside a properly constructed and legitimate multilateral forum.

The point of the G8 is to release a political momentum that accelerates the work going on in the huge array of public, private, local, national and international bodies that must align their efforts if the world is to keep a stable climate. That is why the failure to get anything more than cosmetic acceptance from the Bush administration matters so much. Away from the headlines, the US will go on, as it has done for the past four and a half years, taking every conceivable opportunity to deny, delay and derail international action on climate change.

Tony Blair’s efforts over the past nine months achieved much. Awareness of the importance and urgency of the issue has grown considerably among other country’s political leaderships, in business and finance, the media and the wider public. The weight of scientific evidence on the scale and imminence of the threat is now much more widely accepted. There is an emerging programme of useful, albeit hardly energetic, cooperative international work on climate issues.

But paradoxically, the G8’s most useful outcome is the exact opposite of what the British prime minister intended. Gleneagles has shone a radiant light on the US president’s obdurate isolation on climate change. His position now commands diminishing support at home and none abroad. Nothing in George W Bush’s past performance suggests that this will bother him one iota.

This serves to clarify the task ahead. During Britain’s European Union presidency until December 2005, Blair must focus beyond the text on what we can do with the rest of the world, especially China and India, to invest real money in climate stability.