The Green Paradox

The protesters have returned to their home countries, the injured are licking their wounds, the heads of state are back to business as usual, and Heiligendamm, the old spa on Germany’s Baltic coast, is resuming its dream of imperial beauty. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel achieved a substantial diplomatic success. With charm and unassuming clear-headedness, she wrought a compromise from the G8 countries that may help save the world from the most severe devastations caused by global warming. The world’s eight richest countries promised to “seriously consider” halving their CO2 emissions by 2050.

The wording may sound vague, but, given the positions the countries held at the outset, the outcome was an important achievement. The United States, in particular, shifted its stance significantly since its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, even accepting that the United Nations will have to organize the future negotiations.

But, while the compromise is more than could have been hoped for at the outset, several important countries did not partake of it. To be sure, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico signed on; but many countries, including the Asian tigers and most European countries, did not, despite their large contributions to polluting the world’s atmosphere.

Moreover, the oil sheiks and other producers of fossil fuels who ultimately control the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere were not part of the deal. If major consumer countries and most producer countries do not join the agreement to reduce CO2 emissions, it could be useless.