"I cannot negotiate on the 2 degrees," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently president both of the EU and of the G8 summit that started in Heiligendamm June 6. Her goal was to get the world's biggest producers of greenhouse gases to agree to emission cuts deep enough to limit global heating to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, but that isn't going to happen this year.
In order to meet that target, Merkel wanted countries to commit to a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to the baseline figure for 1990, but U.S. diplomats have already deleted both the 2 degree limit and the 50 per cent cut from the draft summit declaration Merkel sent them.
As for China, which may overtake the U.S. as the world's biggest polluter this year, a leaked draft copy of a national global warming assessment stated that "before accomplishment of modernization by the middle of the 21st century, China should not undertake absolute and compulsory emission reduction obligations." China is not a member of the G8, but it already has the fourth-biggest economy in the world, and by the 2020s it will probably have the second-biggest.
Like the Bush administration, the Chinese regime prefers to talk about cuts in "carbon intensity" : the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of national income.
This is simply an elegant way of dodging the issue. Thus, China proposes to cut "carbon intensity" by 40 per cent by 2020. If the Chinese economy continues to grow at a rate of 10 per cent a year, emissions in China will more than double by then.
It's not surprising that rapidly industrializing countries like China, India, Brazil and Mexico are reluctant to accept formal emission limits. But the stance of some rich countries is harder to explain. The U.S. and Australia have long been the principal delinquents, but Japan, a Kyoto signatory whose own emissions are under control, is now the Bush admin's main instrument for sabotaging the Kyoto Accord.
While most other members want to agree by next year on a new treaty to replace the current accord when it expires in 2012, Japan is insisting that nothing more must be done until big polluters like the U.S., China and India are brought into the system.
If we had world enough and time, this would make sense, but time is not on our side.
Merkel's target of no more than 2 degrees hotter is already dangerously high, since that would mean a 12 to 25 per cent decrease in food production in most of the world's main food-producing areas. The world lacks the reserve food production capacity: millions of people would starve.
Stopping at 2 degrees hotter means stopping at between 450 and 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, depending on whose figures you believe. We are already at 385 ppm, and we are now going up at 4 ppm per year, so deep cuts are needed very soon.
Assume that the next U.S. administration will join the Europeans in adopting serious targets. Is there any point in a post-Kyoto accord if the newly industrializing countries are still not part of it?
A prediction. In the end, we are going to have the same per capita emissions quota no matter where we live: Americans who currently put 20 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, Germans who now emit 10 tonnes per capita, and Indians who only produce 1 tonne at present.
The compromise figure will be around 2 or 3 tonnes per capita for every country, and the rich countries will have to struggle very hard to reduce their emissions, while the developing countries will still have some room to grow. No other global deal is conceivable.