29 July | 04:48:50
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G20: Clearing the air
The world's leading finance ministers gathered in St Andrews last weekend in a largely futile attempt to find common ground on climate change ahead of the Copenhagen summit; The Journal was on hand to watch dejected global leaders and uninspired protesters go through the motions
Wednesday, 11 November, 2009 | 09:00
Credit: Stephanie Howe

Vague promises are not foreign to the G20, but Alistair Darling couldn't hide his disappointment at a press conference in St Andrews last weekend when discussions on climate change hadn't made the progress he had spoken so passionately about. If he was attemtping to mask his disappointment, the student campaigners who gathered to protest on nearby West Sands beach vocally unimpressed.


”Some people don’t like to show their hand” said Darling, when asked about his disappointment, “but make no mistake, the prize here is enormous, we cannot afford for another crisis to emerge before we take further action on climate change.” The UK Chancellor, as many others, is hoping Copenhagen will bring more cooperation on the issue.


Unfortunately for people trying to make a point from the outside, complacency seemed to be the word at this G20.

The international press was focused on the finance ministers of the world's 20 largest economies, and what they might achieve rather than the objections of outsiders.


The G20 speaks for 60 percent of the world's population and represents 80 percent of the world’s wealthbut is held by a meager 10 percent of the world's citizens.


As the threats of rising sea-levels, droughts and floods are turning into everyday scenarios for many of the world's poorest communities, leaders have little time to waste as the costs of global warming may rise to 20 per cent of global GDPa higher cost than the two world wars and the Great Depression.


At the September G20 in Pittsburgh, leaders hammered out objectives for tackling climate change. As ministers returned to discussions in St Andrews, they aimed to establish the options available to finance these objectives.


Campaigners however, feel they are cutting it short. As the G20 meeting closed, organisations such as Oxfam and World Wildlife Fund said that finance ministers let them down.


By not agreeing on a structured plan to bring to the table in Copenhagen, they made the hope to reach any ambitious agreement on the topic slimmer still.


In the past 14 months we have seen governments across the world reach almost unanimous decisions, quickly, on how to tackle the recession. Bank bailouts in the hundreds of billions were implemented. The rapid environmental changes to our planet should be worthy of that kind of response.


Swedish finance minister Anders Borg recognised the threat of a standstill, as he stated that "the discussion has been open and constructive and we have clarified positions, but we need to see more flexibility and more commitment otherwise we will end up with a very, very difficult situation in Copenhagen".

And Copenhagen will indeed be difficult if countries continue forward uncommitted to the cause.

Darling and his plans were overpowered, as climate change wasn't the desired topic of discussion for the developing nations present at the meeting - despite these countries being most threatened by increased levels of production coupled with a lack of funds and outdated measures to deal with emissions. ”This isn’t the forum for these [climate] talks,” a Brazilian representative said.


Talks through the night on climate financing ended at an unsurprising impassé as developing countries seemed determined not to come to any agreement on climate change before the issue of recession had been handled.


Unfortunately, growing economies'India, China, and Brazilreluctance to discuss the topic in the face of UK's ambitions showed how far the world is from any substantial global action on climate threats.


As the world is warming up to the UN summit on climate, many saw this as the last chance ministers had to make headway on matters such as carbon trading and achieving the Kyoto Protocol goals. Darling is clear on that, as he stated ”These are issues that will not go away, and I’d rather they surfaced here so that we can get a deal in Copenhagen.”


Despite the aura of defeat, ministers were still eager to praise global cooperation, and were adamant that they had achieved more than they had in "decades". The communiqué released prior to the press conferences however, stated that the delegations had not come to any specific agreement on tackling climate issues, but had "discussed a range of options and, recognised that finance will play an important role in the delivery of the outcome at Copenhagen".


Political differences aside, the climate deal should be a concerted effort. According to the protesting group 'Nae Tae G20', we cannot expect legislation against climate change to be led by developing countries. Instead, we should look towards rich states: those who generate the most waste, and use the most resources.

Finance needs to be made available for poor countries to cut emissions and invest in innovative low-carbon economies.

For poor countries to be able to do this, estimates indicate they will need substantial funding, around £100 billion a year until 2020.

The UK promises to tackle the climate threat, and vows to make a paltry £1bn a year available. It is clear that this figure will do nothing if it goes unsupported.


This latest summit of the G20 illustrated the inefficacy of pan-national climate discussions. Many countries have different needs and targets. These need to be dissected and penetrated if there is to be a congruent and cogent plan to halt climate change. In light of the threat that global-warming poses to humanity, time is running out for ambiguous responses.

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