Pressure on the G8 to act now on climate change has failed. The world’s richest countries are not committed to a single target to reduce emissions as a result of yesterday’s announcement. While there was talk of the need for “for strong and early action” to tackle climate change through a "substantial global emissions reduction", the only serious target agreed was that more talks would be held. No mechanisms exist for the carbon cuts to be implemented. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, wanted a statement that global warming needs to be kept below 2C. Even this proved too much for the G8. Friends of the Earth admitted that the agreement was "weak and lacked substance". They were victims of the G8’s iron fist when German police boats rammed a Greenpeace protest flotilla, injuring some of the crew. No one should be surprised by this global lack of interest, since all the G8 participants are guided by the principles of the capitalist free market economy championed by the Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman who died in November. According to Friedman: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”
So we’ll have to look elsewhere for solutions to the bombshell of the acceleration in the effects of global warming like the melting of most Andean glaciers in the next 30 years. Small glaciers are scattered across the Andes and have for long been a crucial source of fresh water in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, thawing in summer months and replenishing themselves in winter. But global warming has driven them into retreat. Over 2 million people in the La Paz region depend heavily on the thawing of Chacaltaya and neighbouring glaciers for tap water and, indirectly, for electricity supplies. Glaciologist Edson Ramirez says: "This is a process that unfortunately is now irreversible." Even if measures to cut emissions were taken now, it would take “many, many years to replenish these glaciers, because unfortunately the damage has already been done", he adds.
Anyone looking to business to respond to mounting public concern will also be disappointed. In a new worldwide survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the British government, less than 10% of executives admit that their organisations monitor their overall carbon footprint and just 18% have a carbon reduction plan in place. Nearly one-half of firms have no intention of implementing carbon-reduction plans within the next three years. A total of 634 executives worldwide took part in this survey. Around 31% of respondents were based in western Europe, 28% in the Asia-Pacific region and 26% in North America. Radical action is needed and it isn’t coming and won’t come from the governments of the rich industrialised countries, or from the UN who are all committed to profit-led growth. Join us tomorrow to discuss how we turn the world upside down (or right-side up, as some say).
Gerry Gold, economics editor