Environment Forum

G8 leaders: still around to keep 2050 climate promises?

Last year, when G8 leaders agreed a “vision” of halving world greenhouse gases by 2050 at a summit in Tokyo, Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked around the table and wondered aloud if any of them would still be around to ensure the plan worked — or held to account if it didn’t.

“Probably only Dmitry”, one of the leaders said, referring to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, according to a G8 source. At the time, Medvedev was 42 and will be 84 in 2050.

At this year’s G8 summit, the discussion came up again when the leaders agreed other distant targets, including an 80 percent reduction in emissions by developed nations by 2050. (Critics said they should have focused more on 2020 goals that are most relevant to a new U.N. climate treaty due in December.)

“We probably have a second person — Barack will still be here,” one of the leaders said of U.S. President Barack Obama, who is now 47 and took over from former President George W. Bush in January.

But then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the oldest of the leaders at 72, piped up:

Cashed in your clunker yet?

The 2003 Lincoln Aviator, Lincoln's first mid-size luxury sports utility vehicle (SUV) at the New York Auto Show, March 27, 2002.  REUTERS/Stringer

So, how much do you want for your Aviator?

Once-proud SUV owners are gaining green street cred cashing-in on President Obama’s $1 billion “Car Allowance Rebate” program giving car and truck buyers a $3,500 or $4,500 credit to swap their aging gas-guzzlers for new, more fuel efficient models.

While not an alternative to highway approved cars, it won’t be surprising if those who value image most in switching to a more green way of getting around pass up Global Electric Motorcar’s GEM e4 or Ducati Enegria’s “Free Duck” quadricycle. Neighborhood Electric Vehicles have been the vehicles of choice for leaders at the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, who seem happy to sacrifice chic in the name of the planet and photo opportunities. Form aside, GEM cars get the equivalent of 150 miles per gallon, or two cents per mile, according to the company. And that’s a lot farther than the boat of a truck you bought before the tech bubble burst.

Are you willing to trade in your clunker, and for what? If you already have, how easy was it to get your credit?

The rich are different from you and me: they spew more carbon

Yachts do it. Limousines do it. Even air-conditioned mansions by the sea do it. The trappings of wealth tend to emit lots of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Which is sort of the idea behind a new strategy for sharing the burden of fighting climate change. Take a look at the Reuters story on this here.

Instead of the two-tier world envisioned by the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol — where developed countries have the lion’s share of responsibility for cutting emissions, while developing countries including China and India have few requirements — environmental strategists from Princeton, Harvard, the Netherlands and Italy say it might be better to track the wealthy, who live in every country.

On the grounds that individual rich people emit more carbon dioxide than most other people, these strategists suggest setting an international individual cap on the emissions that spur global warming. Rich people in rich countries are likely to hit this cap sooner than rich people in poor countries, so rich countries are likely to have to do something about their emissions before poor countries do. But eventually, every country that emits more than its share will have to take action, under this scenario.