G8: self-deception on energy and climate

By Bryan Walker 24/05/2012

The section of the recent G8 Camp David declaration which deals with energy and climate change can only be described as depressing. No clarion call from these nations. Instead, a confused jumble starting with an ’all of the above’ statement:

… we recognise the importance of meeting our energy needs from a wide variety of sources ranging from traditional fuels to renewables to other clean technologies. As we each implement our own individual energy strategies, we embrace the pursuit of an appropriate mix from all of the above in an environmentally safe, sustainable, secure, and affordable manner.

How fossil fuels can be considered environmentally safe and sustainable elements in an energy mix is not explained. But apparently this mix is somehow compatible with a low carbon economy:

We also recognise the importance of pursuing and promoting sustainable energy and low carbon policies in order to tackle the global challenge of climate change.

Those quoted sentences follow each other in the statement.  They are contradictory in their substance. Evidently the word ’also’ miraculously dissolves the contradiction. You can have your cake and eat it too.

To establish that conflicting reality the declaration goes on to throw around the words sustainability, safety and environmental concern as a respectable veneer for the disreputable continuing search for oil and gas to the limits of their availability:

As we pursue energy security, we will do so with renewed focus on safety and sustainability. We are committed to establishing and sharing best practices on energy production, including exploration in frontier areas and the use of technologies such as deep water drilling and hydraulic fracturing, where allowed, to allow for the safe development of energy sources, taking into account environmental concerns over the life of a field.

There follows a nod in the direction of energy efficiency and renewable energy. The latter needs to be cost-effective, presumably measured against fossil energy. Note the emphasis on energy security and savings ahead of addressing climate change:

We recognise that increasing energy efficiency and reliance on renewables and other clean energy technologies can contribute significantly to energy security and savings, while also addressing climate change and promoting sustainable economic growth and innovation. We welcome sustained, cost-effective policies to support reliable renewable energy sources and their market integration. We commit to advance appliance and equipment efficiency, including through comparable and transparent testing procedures, and to promote industrial and building efficiency through energy management systems.

Somehow, along with the continuing search for fossil fuels to burn they’re also going to be giving attention to keeping global temperature within bounds:

We agree to continue our efforts to address climate change and recognize the need for increased mitigation ambition in the period to 2020, with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2oC above pre-industrial levels, consistent with science.

The statement is plagued by self-deception. IEA head Fatih Birol said last week at a Reuters’ Global Energy & Environment Summit: ’What I see now with existing investments for plants under construction…we are seeing the door for a 2 degree Celsius target about to be closed and closed forever. This door is getting slimmer and slimmer in terms of physical and economic possibility.” Yet the G8 leaders, in the same week, were speaking as if fossil fuels can continue to be discovered and exploited at the same time as climate change is ostensibly addressed.

One hopes that the declaration was stitched together as a diplomatic exercise and that its contradictions can be explained by that fact and are not representative of the thinking of all the nations represented at the summit.  Indeed it’s hard to see how any intelligent person could think all those things at the same time and not recognise their incompatibility. But it’s still unnerving. Not least because it’s a mirror of the New Zealand government’s position and will no doubt encourage them to maintain that the increased fossil fuel exploration and exploitation they have committed to is strangely consistent with fighting the danger of climate change.