The deal on climate change announced at the G8 conference is, in practical terms, a face-saving compromise rather than a substantive agreement. But it does have some real implications.
First, barring some last-minute pullout by China or India, it locks everyone who matters into the UN’s post-Kyoto process ending in 2009. As far as I can tell, no-one at G8 noted Australia’s world-leading initiatives or suggested that it would be a good idea to wait until September when the issue could be discussed at APEC in Sydney. Maybe there’s some wiggle room to reopen the topic, but as far as I can see the idea of a Sydney declaration is dead on arrival. Bush’s initial proposal, similar to Howard’s idea, got no support from anyone and was dropped.
Second, although Bush’s promise to “consider” a 50 per cent cut by 2050 is worthless, the deal makes it clear that this will be the focal point for future discussions, at least as far as developed countries are concerned. The idea that Australia might be able to announce its own lower target is just silly. The remaining sticking point is the starting date from which the cut is to be calculated. The EU wants 1990. The government would obviously prefer to calculate from 2012, but as I’ve observed previously, our failure to ratify Kyoto leaves us without a leg to stand on here.
Finally, while Bush didn’t give a lot of ground, he certainly didn’t gain any. Canada and Japan sided with the EU, and they all committed to the 50 per cent cut. Bush’s concessions may have been mainly rhetorical but they will provide political cover for his successor to follow through with some real action.