Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Don’t hold your breath

As protesters prepare to give the G8 a warm Scottish welcome, Melanie Jarman predicts little chance of any agreement on climate change, save perhaps recognition, finally, that it is actually taking place

July 1, 2005
6 min read

When the G8 meets in Scotland one of the two issues at the top of the agenda is climate change. And rightly so: even Tony Blair has described it as “long-term the single most important issue we face as a global community” while the Pentagon has suggested that “the risk of abrupt climate change& should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern”.

The other top issue on the G8 agenda, poverty in Africa, is a conundrum with no hope of resolution without a relatively stable climate. The cost of environmental degradation in Ghana is estimated to be 2 per cent of national income. Africa’s dependence on ecosystems under severe pressure from unpredictable weather means that by 2080 the continent may be home to up to 80 per cent of those people who will be at risk from hunger. Despite a compelling combination of concern and need, effective G8 action on climate change is about as likely as a pre-Christmas turkey dash to the slaughterhouse. The forecast for the G8 summit is looking bleak.

One of the fundamental obstacles to G8 engagement with climate change is that all of these industrialised countries are reliant on that key driver of climate change: oil. The G8 produce around 47 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions and are home to most of the world’s top 20 oil companies. Russia, which has the biggest oil reserves of all the G8 countries, would struggle without its fossil fuel exports. At the World Bank, another forum dominated by members of the G8, support for fossil fuel projects amounts to around 94 per cent of the energy portfolio while support for renewables is around just 6 per cent.

Reliant on fossil fuels and so reluctant to engage in the shift in energy sources that climate change demands, the G8 countries are investing in the other end of things: capture of the greenhouse gases emitted when these fuels are used. G8 members are supportive of the idea of storing carbon dioxide both above and below ground to prevent it being released into the atmosphere and are pledging to invest in Carbon Capture and Storage technology.

Underground burial involves great stashes under land or sea, with no guarantee against leaks at a future date. Those G8 countries involved in the Kyoto process have expressed support for overground capture in the form of “carbon sinks”, through planting trees or the conservation of forests. While trees do soak up carbon dioxide, methods of accounting for just how much a tree can store are far more complex. Forests and tree plantations are subject to unpredictable influences, including fires, pests, diseases and the availability of nutrients. Temperature change from global warming is a fairly predictable factor but the changes this will bring in trees’ behaviour are not. And human behaviour, fortunately, can be equally unpredictable.

While in Scotland, one project the G8 may wish to reflect on is a carbon sink in Espirito Santo, Brazil. It is funded by BP to make up for carbon dioxide emitted in the company’s operations at Grangemouth (Scotland’s major oil refinery on the River Forth) and across the globe. However, the people of Espirito Santo are not so keen on their role as passive components in an accounting system in which over-consumption by rich countries is the bottom line. This May, indigenous people in the area reclaimed 11,000 hectares of land, including eucalyptus plantations, for restoration to native forest and construction of new villages.

The reclaimers point out that monoculture eucalyptus plantations are an environmental pest, not an environmental solution. The plantations allow for pesticide run-off and poisoning, consume vast amounts of water resources, devastate local agriculture and support little biodiversity. Heidi Bachram of Carbon Trade Watch has suggested that such carbon sink plantations act “as an occupying force in impoverished rural communities dependent on these lands for survival”.

In terms of the issues to be addressed at the G8 meeting, indigenous participants at a 2003 Forest Peoples Programme workshop in India released a declaration stating that “the carbon credit approach (to climate change) may trigger a new wave of debt mechanism and inequity on the South. The more carbon a person or company in a Northern country emits, the more land it will be entitled to grab in the South for its carbon emissions”.

The trend of richer countries taking resources from poorer countries, while keeping those countries poor through the system of international debt, is likely to be made worse by the G8’s approach to climate change. Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation, has described climate change itself as an issue of debt – of ecological debt, rather than cash debt. In a recent book, Ecological Debt: The Health of the Planet and the Wealth of Nations, he describes how the G8 countries are using up environmental resources and running up ecological debts. This process, Simms claims, is a bigger threat to global poverty eradication than the foreign debts of poor countries.

Alongside carbon storage, nuclear power is another technology likely to be boosted by the G8 summit. Although a draft G8 climate change communiqué leaked prior to the summit did not indicate a position on nuclear power, both Bush and Blair are known to be keen on this outdated energy source, despite the long term problems it creates.

The tragedy of all this is that tackling climate change is not impossible. Far from it. In a report for the International Climate Change Task Force this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reminded readers that, according to the G8 Renewables Energy Task Force itself, the barriers to the deployment of renewable energy are financial and political, rather than technological.

The IPPR report outlined steps that could be taken to de-carbonise the global economy, reconcile climate policy with trade and competitiveness, and make climate policy contribute to poverty eradication. Aimed at a forum bringing together government, business and top scientists and co-chaired by former transport secretary Stephen Byers, the report was framed in language that G8 policy-makers could understand.

Elsewhere, commentators on both left and right have suggested that, alongside reduced energy consumption, a wholesale re-think of energy systems – such as a shift from large and remote megapower energy developments to micropower systems sited close to the point of use – is both needed and possible.

But little will happen at Gleneagles this month in terms of climate change. The US refuses to sign up to a timeline for emission cuts – a basic first step to slow climate change. Other G8 members may resist further emission cuts from fear of being out-competed by US companies with limited restraints on energy use.

Meanwhile, the G8 summit takes place at a time that may be the endgame for life on Earth. Global temperature change, species extinction and upheaval in biodiversity are taking place on a scale never seen before in human history. Despite all this, the G8 leaders are likely to congratulate themselves just on getting agreement that yes, something possibly serious really is going on out there.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook