Last month, the U.S. National
Academy of Sciences and 12 counterparts in other nations jointly called on world
leaders who would be attending the G-8 Summit in
Our President and his fellow
attendees “embraced for the first time . . . an ambitious but nonbinding goal
of slashing greenhouse-gas emissions in half by mid-century,” according to an Associated
Press account in today’s paper. But what good is a nonbinding goal? It sounds
like a Christmas wish list.
These leaders should have issued some moral-equivalent-of-war imperative (to borrow from Jimmy Carter) promising that the world’s biggest, richest, and most polluting nations (all of which were represented at the meeting) would absolutely cut emissions dramatically, come hell or high water.
I know, with the exception
The European Union has
promised to do more: cut its emissions 20 percent below 1990 values within the
next 12 years. The EU also offered to go further —drop its members’
greenhouse-gas emissions 30 percent below 1990 values by 2030, but if and only
if other industrialized nations (read Uncle Sam) would too. To date, the
Another gimp in the G-8’s
announced stride towards slowing climate change is the putative date this group
offered for achieving its emissions drop — mid-century. That isn’t nearly soon
enough to reliably stave off some pretty dire climatic changes, according to
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This august body of scientists,
who’ve pored over the data to understand just how much wiggle room we might have
in timetables for halting devastation, suggests a turnaround in emissions rates
must be achieved much sooner. In fact, it has said that emissions growth must
be halted within the next decade, and actual drops in emissions must follow
Another major question mark
is what the G-8’s aspirational goal of halving emissions is meant to connote.
Is it, as the Kyoto Protocol requires, a drop in the quantity of emissions as
compared to what each nation had spewed in 1990? Or a drop to a level 50
percent below current emissions, which would allow a much higher rate of
pollution to continue?
Oh, and then there is the
issue of which emissions will be tackled. The G-8’s unstated implication is
that the proposed emissions drops would only cover those greenhouse gases regulated
Tsk tsk . . . all these are
just details to be ironed out.
Big details, actually. Ones
slated to be negotiated through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This
group’s next meeting takes place this fall, in
Meanwhile the Arctic melts,
We need someone to step in and
really shake things up. Someone with no strong allegiance to a particular
nation or political ideology. (I know that sounds like some bureaucrat who’d
come from the United Nations, except that the UN actually is a very political
What we need is a czar — or czarina — whose foremost allegiance is to the health of the planet and its diverse inhabitants. Anyone care to submit nominees?
Prather, M.J. and J. Hsu. 2008. NF3, the greenhouse gas missing from Kyoto. Geophysical Research Letters 35(June 26). doi:10.1029/2008GL034542 [Go to]
Note: To comment, Science News subscribing members must now establish a separate login relationship with Disqus. Click the Disqus icon below, enter your e-mail and click “forgot password” to reset your password. You may also log into Disqus using Facebook, Twitter or Google.