If Not Now, Then When?
Yangon -- All politics are local, goes the old aphorism. Today, we can say that all problems are global. As world leaders meet at the G8 Summit in Italy, they will have to update their politics to grapple with problems that not one of them can solve alone.
The last few years have been a cascade of interconnected crises: financial panic, rising food and oil prices, climate shocks, a flu pandemic and more. Political cooperation to address these problems is not a nicety. It is a global necessity.
The intensity of global interconnectedness is stunning. The H1N1 influenza was identified in a Mexican village in April. It has now reached over 100 countries. The collapse of Lehman Brothers last September was transmitted worldwide within days. Soon, even the most remote villages in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were feeling the shock of reduced remittance income, cancelled investment projects, and falling export prices. In the same way, climate shocks in parts of Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Americas contributed to soaring food prices that hit the poor and created instability and hardships in dozens of countries.
No nation or world leader can solve these problems alone. Every country faces worsening climate impacts that result from worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, not just those within national borders. A recent US government report, for example, warns that business as usual in climate policy will result in severe droughts in the American southwest, intense storms and flooding in the Gulf of Mexico and torrential rains in the northeast. US politicians will be answerable, but heading off these dire effects requires global agreement.
This is why I am calling on the G8 to act on a set of crucial issues over the coming twelve months. Some are within the purview of the G8 countries; others require global agreement by all UN members. Either way, the G8 leaders have a special obligation to lead, given past commitments, the size of their economies, their disproportionate contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, and their responsibilities as donor countries.
First, the G8 and other major emitters of greenhouse gases must intensify their work to seal a deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. That agreement must be fair, scientifically rigorous, and comprehensive. The goal: to limit the global mean temperature increase to two degrees Celsius. Achieving this means global emissions must be reduced by at least 50% by 2050, with the G8 and other industrialized countries committing to emissions cuts of at least 80% from 1990 levels.
In the interim, industrialized countries must make the first step by committing to emission reductions of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The principles of equity and historical responsibility require no less. That said, developing countries must also move substantially beyond business as usual in cutting their emissions. But they should not have to choose between reducing poverty or reducing emissions. Both are vital.