By John Parnell
The crisis in Syria and the ongoing economic downturn have pushed climate change out of the spotlight at the G8 summit this week.
The Queen’s speech in May, which sets out government policy for the year ahead, listed climate change as one of five priorities for the UK’s G8 presidency.
The issue is not on the agenda for world leaders gathering in Lough Erne with foreign ministers tackling it instead. A Downing Street spokesperson told RTCC the issue would be picked up again in the Autumn.
“The UK is tackling climate change under its G8 Presidency. It was discussed at the foreign ministers meeting in May and agreed that the UK would host a meeting for officials from G8 countries to identify practical actions which countries can take to show leadership in responding to the impacts of climate change as a contributing factor to increased global security risks,” they said.
“However, climate change is a global issue reaching far beyond the G8 so we will rightly continue to focus our main effort on the UN process where UK leadership, working through the EU, has driven action to get all countries working together to reach a global deal by 2015.”
The meeting of foreign ministers in April delivered a week communique on climate change that merely reiterated support to the UNFCCC climate talks and announced a climate risk meeting for “interested G8 countries”.
The crisis in Syria and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s chosen focus on transparency and tax reform look set to dominate the G8’s highest level meeting.
RTCC revealed in March that the UK’s lead G8 negotiator Ivan Rogers, had rejected appeals by Germany and France for climate change to take a prominent role in the talks.
French President Hollande, writing in the Huffington Post last week, said: “It is the responsibility of the international community as a whole to ensure the success of the negotiations. The G8 must do its part and give a strong political impetus to curb carbon emissions.”
On Monday, European climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard told the BBC that climate change was not becoming less important to politicians.
“It’s not slipping down the agenda, there are just other issues coming up,” said Hedegaard.
“The economic community and world leaders need to understand what the World Bank and the OECD are saying, that dealing with climate change is not an environmental issue. It’s about preparing your economy for the future.”
Cameron is one of three world leaders chairing the UN’s high level panel on the new set of sustainable development goals, the regime that will follow up on the Millennium Development Goals.
Speaking to campaigners on Monday, Cameron repeated his desire to tackle the causes of global hunger during the summit.
“Thank you for your work. The campaigns that you do, the pressure that you put on helps me deliver on the agenda we all want, which is to make sure there is enough food for everyone. We are going to go as far as we can to really make a difference.”
Not all are convinced. Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins says the G8’s contributions to environmental and development issues are inaction and failure.
“G8 policies are not only failing to tackle major international crises like climate change, world hunger and the trashing of our natural resources; they often make them worse,” said Atkins.
“Proposals at this year’s summit would accelerate corporate control of the world’s food system and do little to end our fossil fuel addiction.
“The world’s richest nations must stop pursuing economic growth at any cost and build economies that allow us all to live sustainably and equitably within the planet’s limited resources,” he added.
Other environmental campaigners have hailed the G8’s “revolutionary” agenda, principally because if its transparency push succeeds, it could make the world a fairer place to live.
Camilla Toulmin, head of the influential International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), says Cameron’s focus on ending tax evasion and boosting transparency in a number of different fields, could yield returns beyond the financial world.
“Holding companies to account in their home countries needs a parallel process in the places where they operate. It is for this reason that IIED urges the G8 to see transparency as a critical step on the road to accountability and fair and sustainable development,” she writes.
“The beginnings are being made in opening up budgetary processes to citizen scrutiny, but it takes well-informed people, sufficient resources, and a safe political space to ensure public access to information can be carried through to achieve real accountability. It’s a revolutionary agenda that has the potential to turn politics on its head and transform societies.”