Thursday, June 07, 2007

G8 More of the Same Rhetoric

The G8 Summit today focused on the two key issues of emissions controls and energy efficiencies. Some papers in the US and indeed, around the world, are heralding an agreement between the US and Germany with regards to emissions limits. (New York Times: Europe and U.S. Reach Climate Deal.) I would advise those papers to read their own articles on the subject before jumping to that wild conclusion.

What effectively happened today with regards to emissions controls is that President Bush gave Chancellor Merkel a political bone by agreeing to "seriously consider" a European proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% between now and 2050. While I'm certain that Chancellor Merkel will make good political use of that statement, it is truly a statement without substance. There is no commitment involved at all when one agrees to seriously consider a proposal.

The reality is that any global agreement involving the US will hinge entirely on the President's offer to bring China and India back to the table. There's good reason for that, since the US cannot agree to any emissions controls that will potentially increase the cost of manufacturing here until China and India make similar agreements. The economic implications of such an agreement without the two most rapidly developing nations are staggering. We simply can't agree to it without putting similar constraints on them. The US has already lost too much manufacturing might to third-world countries thanks to cheap (bordering on slave) labor. To pile emissions control restrictions on US manufacturing without similar constraints on China and India would cripple what little manufacturing remains in this country. So if the Chancellor truly wishes agreement on emissions control, she had best work with us to get China and India back to the table. There is no agreement without them.

The topic of energy efficiency also surfaced, and I'm a bit perplexed by the US stance on this one. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Chancellor Merkel's chief energy advisor, expressed concern over the status of a German proposal to increase energy efficiency by 20% before 2020. The stance taken by the US is that efficiency goals should be set individually by each nation, and that it should not be a global mandate. The logic behind that escapes me.

Increasing energy efficiency simply makes good economic sense. It follows logically that, as the efficiency increases, the cost of energy decreases. That has to be good news for American business as well as the American consumer. Why would we not support a 20% goal by 2020? Even without the economic potential, it makes good political sense. When the average American thinks "energy", they immediately think of gasoline prices, even though the two are not directly related. Championing an energy efficiency policy would play very well heading into an election year whether or not the goal is actually achievable.

What it all comes down to is this, though. We are in the midst of yet another G8 Summit, but there is nothing new and nothing of substance forthcoming. The script is the same, it would seem. G8 leaders arrive, they are met by protests and riots, they sit around and pontificate over global warming, emissions controls, and energy prices, and they ultimately go home with nothing having been actually decided or agreed upon. Somebody wake me when we decide to get serious at one of these summits. For now, it's almost as bad as reading the latest in the Paris Hilton jail saga.

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