[Outlook]Changing the G-8 climate

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[Outlook]Changing the G-8 climate

Toyako, Japan, is a city of stunning scenery. This year’s Group of Eight meeting was held in the Windsor Hotel atop Poromoi Mountain, 625 meters above sea level. The hotel has a view of the lake and the mountains of Toyako. If a fog rises from the lake, with clouds hanging low over the mountains, the hotel becomes a mystical place, like a castle in a fairy tale.

The combined gross domestic product of the eight industrialized superpowers is $31.5 trillion, 57.9 percent of the combined GDP of the entire world. With the Group of Eight leaders staying there, it is a wonder the Windsor Hotel could bear the weight of all that money.

Leaders from countries that don’t belong to the Group of Eight stayed in a hotel in Sapporo, 110 kilometers from Toyako. The media center was located in Rusutsu, 30 kilometers from Toyako. If the Windsor Hotel is a castle, Sapporo and Rusutsu are villages at its foot. For the G-8 leaders, the rest of the world consists of the villages at the foot of their castle.

While the members of the meeting discussed the issue of starvation over meals of luxury food from Hokkaido, it was hard to expect them to come up with practical measures to resolve the food shortage in other parts of the world. G-8 countries subsidize farmers who grow products in low demand on the world’s marketplace. They use tons of crops to produce biofuel when people in other parts of the globe don’t have enough to eat. Russia regulates food exports.

The G-8 leaders declared they would abolish regulations on food exports and make an international program to save food for emergencies in an effort to resolve the food crisis. However, countries decide on their own whether or not to abolish such regulations. Decisions from the G-8 meeting are nonbinding. The food-saving system will cost a huge amount of money. And neither will save the people starving in the poor villages below the castle.

It was even more difficult to expect a breakthrough on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the most important issue in the G-8 meeting. The eight countries had different stances and, as expected, they made an abstract agreement to cut emissions to half of 1997 levels by 2050.

Industrial nations’ Kyoto Protocol obligations to reduce emissions end in 2012. The core of the debate is what to do from 2013 on. The United States and China emit far more greenhouse gas than other countries. But the United States is boycotting the Kyoto Protocol, maintaining that there must be binding reduction targets for China and India.

Meanwhile, China and India are demanding industrialized countries, which emitted greenhouse gases without a limit for the past 100 years of industrialization, set concrete reduction targets, meet those goals, and provide developing countries with resources and technology to meet their limits.

Global warming causes climate change. As a result, we see more typhoons, droughts and tsunamis which take human lives and damage crops. If glaciers on the North and South Poles melt, raising sea levels, some coastal cities in the South Pacific, China and the Netherlands might sink below the ocean. How can we prevent such disasters? Different countries and people have different ideas on how to cut down the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the culprit behind global warming.

For now, advanced countries should set a goal for the total amount of reduction necessary and allocate specific amounts to different countries in order to meet that goal. Developing countries should have nonbinding emission reduction goals and aim to meet them sometime between 2020 and 2030.

The carbon credit system is a widely supported measure. In this program, developing countries that exceed their greenhouse gas emissions targets earn carbon credits, and they can sell those credits to advanced countries which fail to meet their targets. President Lee Myung-bak’s speech in Toyako was along these lines.

The G-8 meeting in Toyako didn’t produce an agreement on concrete measures. While the European Union countries and Japan lead in reducing carbon emissions, the United States plans to increase greenhouse gas emissions until 2015, and is trying to shift blame onto China and India. China and India respond together to the U.S. pressure.

That gives Korea a chance to serve as a mediator. However, President Lee’s speech revealed that Korea isn’t prepared for the role. His speech wasn’t persuasive or powerful enough. We should draw mid- and long-term measures and train a group of experts who can express our stance on climate change and greenhouse gases with confidence in international meetings.

In the new order in the post-Cold War era, economies that emit less carbon will likely take a central role. That might mean the arrival of a new civilization. The government must play a role in conflict resolution, companies must change their systems to lower carbon emissions, and ordinary citizens must change their lifestyles to save energy.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-hie
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