Can America prevent the rich countries agreeing what to do about climate
change? That's the other vital question at Gleneagles alongside Africa and
its poverty and, last night, the omens did not look good.
President George Bush made anything but reassuring noises in a pre-summit
television interview with Trevor McDonald, rejecting outright any suggestion
that the US might join the Kyoto protocol on global warming, or consider any
binding agreements to cut US emissions of greenhouse gases.
But Mr Bush's blunt stance - "I go to the G8 with an agenda that I
think is best for our country" - was clearly aimed at opinion back
home, and may not prevent Tony Blair putting climate change on top of the G8
agenda. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, insisted last night a deal was
Mr Blair's aims are concrete, but limited. He has accepted, even if many
environmentalists have not, that the US will not rejoin Kyoto, certainly
before the first period of the treaty ends in 2012, and that it will not
accept targets to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide before then, under any
America signing up to any of that has never been on his Gleneagles shopping
list. Instead, he wants progress in three areas, which may take the business
of tackling climate change on substantially, even while the Kyoto process
itself is inching forward with the rich countries trying, and mainly
failing, to shave a very small amount off their CO2 emissions.
Mr Blair wants a statement on the science of climate change, an agreement on
the development of energy-saving technology and the beginnings of a climate
change partnership with the developing world. He may still get all of them.
If he does, he will have proved that he was right to put global warming at
the top of the agenda at Gleneagles with Africa, although it has been the
forgotten issue of the past few days.
Global warming was not mentioned in the global triumph of goodwill for
Africa that was Live8. They did not sing about the warming atmosphere from
the stage in Hyde Park, or in Philadelphia, Berlin or Rome. But if the
unforgettable coalition of singers and performers could have looked into
Africa's future rather than at the haunting images of its past and present,
they surely would have done.
For everything that makes Africa hard to inhabit today will be made harder
by global warming. Hunger will be made more acute; shortage of clean water
will be more degrading; disease will be more painful, crippling and deadly;
natural disasters will be more overwhelming. Climate change threatens to
vitiate all the efforts to help Africa that the rich world can possibly come
up with, all the debt cancellation, the aid increases and the trade
Two weeks ago, a group of British aid agencies and environmental groups,
from Oxfam to Greenpeace, forcefully pointed out this awkward truth. Their
report, Africa - Up In Smoke? insisted the issues of African poverty and
climate change are inseparably linked, and the first cannot be solved
without dealing with the second. It was a direct challenge to the simple
Live8 theme, that if only the economic basis of Africa's future can be
sorted by a properly responsible rich world, the continent will come good.
It will not, the report said, if we do not tackle the warming atmosphere.
There is no doubt Mr Blair has grasped that truth and it is reflected in his
three aims from the summit. His statement on the science of climate change,
signed by all the G8 leaders, is the simplest, but also the riskiest, of his
initiatives at Gleneagles.
Its purpose, he told the Word Economic Forum in Davos in January, was "
to set a direction of travel". Mr Blair believes the business community
will not really get going on the task of building a low-carbon future, and
investing in the new technology needed for long-term projects such as new
power stations until it sees clearly that world governments are united on
the essentials of climate change.
The scientific consensus that climate change is real and happening is now
overwhelming. But that is to reckon without the astonishing attempts by the
Bush administration in its second term to deny the science. Yesterday,
however, there were reports that summit "sherpas" had managed to
agree a text all G8 leaders could agree to, which, although not stating that
global warming was happening, did state that scientists said it was. On such
subtleties are summits sometimes rescued.
Mr Blair's second climate change aim at Gleneagles is to reach agreements
about how new energy-saving or CO2-limiting technology can be speeded in
development, and be adopted more quickly by industry. He has in mind
renewable energy projects and others such as the hydrogen fuel cell, which
may replace the internal combustion engine without emissions of CO2, and
carbon sequestration, a method of taking CO2 out of the waste gases of a
power station and burying it.
As that is hardly a contentious issue - and indeed, the US sees the way
forward on climate change as developing technical fixes rather than agreeing
to targets set by somebody else - Mr Blair may get his way.
His third and final initiative is perhaps the most vital: it concerns the
developing countries. As we report elsewhere, in the next 20 years, China,
India and other developing nations will produce gigantic emissions of CO2 as
their economies boom. Yet they have no commitments to cut those emissions.
If they do not tackle them eventually, all the CO2 savings the US and the
other rich nations can make will go for nothing, because emissions from the
emerging economies will more than make up for rich countries' cut. So Mr
Blair wants to start a climate change dialogue with the developing world,
reassuring them they can continue to grow but offering to help them grow
cleanly, by using new energy-saving technology as soon as it comes on stream.
In all the righteous, clamorous protest about aid, trade, and debt in Hyde
Park, amid the Geldof-inspired, rock'n'roll-fuelled euphoria, it was easy to
forget that Africa can be ruined by the atmosphere as well as by economics.
But in that luxury golfing hotel on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, it
is going to be forcefully remembered.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.