What would you tell the G8?

As world leaders prepare to convene in Italy, we asked seven experts from four continents what they would advise the G8 on climate change and environment. Read their responses – and leave your own.

Realise low-carbon prosperity

The world economic context has changed dramatically since last year’s G8. The financial crisis and recession has awakened many world leaders to the possibility that they could kill two birds with one stone: the road to Copenhagen could put in place a policy direction to achieve economic recovery and address climate change in an integrated manner – realising low-carbon prosperity.

The G8 summit offers the opportunity for leaders from major economies to break the climate deadlock, not only to demonstrate their political will in words, but also more importantly, to put something substantial on the table on key issues of technology cooperation and financing. The G8 communique last year was criticised for its vagueness and voluntary nature. Since then, progress has been made committing to reduction targets. Although these are far from achieving the two degrees Celsius target we need, at least steps are now being taken. What is needed now is more specific numbers and plans on technology and financing. With these three pieces in place: targets, technology and financing, we could hope to have a constructive framework this year. And we need that kind of hope more urgently than ever.

Wu Changhua is director for Greater China at the Climate Group

Move towards consensus

Dialectical thinking is out of fashion these days, but we need it now. What the world needs more than ever is for the United States and China to each move forward on a serious long-term programme to rein in greenhouse-gas output over the rest of this century.

But politics does not move in a straight line. Nation states, even large and powerful ones, like China and the United States, can be moved by international consensus. Few nation states, especially large and powerful ones, want to be viewed as outlaw regimes. G8 meetings have never been much good for more than atmospherics. But this time the atmospherics can play an important role. Angela Merkel has said that she expects leaders from the G8 to endorse a goal of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius. Such an endorsement would help to consolidate world consensus that we are no longer debating whether to have a goal, or what the goal should be, but how we should proceed given that goal. In politics that is real progress.

In the United States political context, significant policy rarely moves forward without such consensus. For without it, every policy is grist for the mill of competition between the competing political parties. That makes it hard to develop serious and painful choices that will cost politicians support from the voters.

Martin Bunzl directs the Initiative on Climate change and Social Policy at Rutgers University

Forget Copenhagen – for now

My advice to G8 leaders when they meet in Italy? Forget Copenhagen. Leave September’s Major Emitters’ Meeting and the UN Secretary General’s High Level Event to start the countdown to December’s climate summit. Instead, go back to the original rationale for your annual gathering: to provide a forum where leaders can debate long-term challenges, informally, openly and without reading from a script prepared for them by officials.

They – and I assume full participation from the +5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) – should structure the climate debate around three questions. First, what global institutions will we need to manage a low-carbon world? Second, what principles should guide the fair allocation of emission rights over the next 20 years? And finally, how do we create a forum that will explore climate solutions with the same level of seriousness the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has dedicated to the climate problem?

David Steven is a non-resident fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and an editor of Global Dashboard

Embrace cooperation

It is ironic that the last G8 summit before Copenhagen will be hosted in Italy, whose prime minister Silvio Berlusconi threatened to veto the European Union’s climate package before last year’s talks in Poznan. But when world leaders gather for the G8 summit in L’Aquila, the wreckage of the recent earthquake might remind them of the vulnerability of human civilisation to natural disasters, a reminder that will resonate in particular with president Hu Jintao of China. The increasingly severe threat of climate-change impacts will expose us to even more devastating consequences, unless it is taken sufficiently seriously.

Collectively, the G8 countries will have to reaffirm their leadership in the battle against climate change by showing genuine commitment to real emissions reduction targets, for both the medium- and long- terms, and good faith on how to assist the developing world to mitigate and adapt.

The EU leads on this, despite internal divisions – though it could go further. The recent passage of the Waxman-Markey bill by the US House of Representatives is also a step in the right direction, but its 2020 target falls short, and the provision of border tax adjustment is badly judged. Japan, whose 2020 target is far too weak, also has to show that the legacy of Kyoto is something to be honoured, not trampled.

The moral responsibility for the G8 to help developing countries with technology and finance should not be compromised by the economic recession or the protection of self-interest. “Exchange, cooperation and mutual benefit should be the defining features of the 21st century,” Yang Jiechi, the Chinese foreign minister, recently told an audience in Washington. “Gone should be the days when countries competed at the expense of each other’s interests under a zero-sum mentality.” We should urge the G8 leaders to adopt this spirit in L’Aquila – and beyond towards Copenhagen.

Wang Tao is research fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Sussex Energy Group at SPRU, University of Sussex.

Jim Watson is director of the Sussex Energy Group at SPRU and deputy leader of the Tyndall Centre’s Climate Change and Energy Programme.

Reconnect economics and nature

Given the impact of the global economic meltdown on countries across the world, I expect that the G8 leaders will agree on the need for a new set of rules to forestall a similar occurrence in future. This would be a welcome development. However, anti-poverty campaigners are likely to be
disappointed again. Few leaders have shown a commitment to raising the aid budget commensurate with their initial enthusiasm in 2005.

But I do expect this week’s summit will send positive signals about the readiness of the G8 countries to lead the way at Copenhagen in December. The renewed US commitment to greenery under president Barack Obama may hope to see us through to a post-Kyoto accord. However, a total disconnect between the economy and nature has the planet in crisis. As the world’s leading economies meet, a strong commitment to a new way of living would go a long way towards making efforts at Copenhagen worthwhile.

Godwin Nnanna is the Accra correspondent for Business Day Nigeria

Listen to the farmers

After 20 years of neglect, G8 leaders can join other international policy groups, such as the World Bank and the United Nations, to once again recognise the pivotal role that agriculture and farmers play in achieving broader development goals.

US president Barack Obama and other G8 leaders should reverse the last generation’s neglect, during which time agriculture’s share of total aid has dropped from 17% to 3% of total spend. In sub-Saharan Africa, this decline is even steeper, at 35%.

In short, farmers in the developing world need farm support not food aid. Farmers grow our food, manage the land, and safeguard biodiversity. Today, the typical African farmer is a woman with limited access to high-yield seeds and fertilizers or to basic infrastructure like irrigated fields and year-round roads. As a result, these farmers grow less than they might and do so less efficiently.

In April, the G8 agriculture ministers warned that these food security issues could not only increase global levels of hunger but also political instability and the inefficient management of limited water and land resources. Since then, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has announced that the world’s hungry now include more than 1 billion people, more than at any other time in history.

If farmers are treated more as entrepreneurs rather than aid recipients, they can boost their own livelihoods and be better equipped to address the world’s food needs. To show how this might work, my organization – the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) – has come together with other global farming and science organisations to create the ‘Farming First’ plan as a comprehensive guide to policymakers.

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is chief executive of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

What would you tell the G8? Join our bilingual discussion by leaving your response in the comments.

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