Thursday, June 11, 2015

The G-7 on Climate- Do They Matter?

The annual summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized countries was held this past week in a resort town in Germany. At the close of the G-7 Summit there seemed to be few areas of clear agreement, but the Leaders of the G-7 nations made a joint statement that deep cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were needed this century. They said that the world nations should hold to the upper limit of the United Nations recommendation calling for a 40% to 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized in her statement that the G-7 leaders had agreed on the need for binding global rules to be developed later this year in Paris. That is a nice sentiment, but the G-7 probably does not have the ability to accomplish that goal or anything close to it. Though the G-7 remains influential, that influence is waning. As the wealth and power of the developing countries grows, the G-7 needs to recognize that it is being eclipsed as the world marches towards multiple and polarized point of power. To reach any world agreement now requires increasing participation of developing countries instead of G-7 authoritarian rule.

The G-7 summit, established in the 1970s to handle the oil crisis, has returned to its original seven members. The G-7 nations are: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. Together they represent less than 28% of the World’s 2012 CO2 equivalent emissions from fuel and even less in 2015 as China and the emerging nations have continued to grow. In 2012 the Middle East , Russia, Eastern Europe, China, the rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America accounted for 58% of global emissions and an even larger share of the world’s population.

Total CO2 emissions per country is far from the total picture. The picture would change significantly when moving from total CO2 emissions to looking at CO2 emissions per capita or per dollar of GDP (gross domestic product). The charts below show the problem. The CO2 emissions per capita are both an indication of standard of living and energy efficiency. There is some progress that can be made in reducing CO2 emissions by changes in behaviors in the United States without sacrificing the future quality of life of our children and grandchildren. However, life in a a less CO2 emitting United States will look vastly different from today.

World CO2 emissions have grown at an alarming pace over the past fifty years. With tremendous effort and cooperation the nations may be able to halt the growth in CO2 emissions and possibly reduce that slightly, but cutting emissions by 70% in 55 years is unfathomable. While the latest preliminary data on emissions have shown a slowdown in growth, there remain more than 1.2 billion people without access to electricity, or adequate sanitation. If everyone on earth were to have access to electricity and adequate sanitation, CO2 emissions would jump, not fall by 70%.
The International Energy Agency, IEA, will release its 2014 full report on world CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion on June 15, 2015. The report will include an analysis of the plans nations have submitted to reduce CO2 emissions, Though the United States and European Union have submitted plans (the European Union's plan is the most ambitious) many nations, including China, have not submitted plans. The current commitments alone can't do it- contain the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. Stay tuned.

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