Seasoned global justice activists are calling the Hokkaido meeting of the leaders of the wealthiest nations one of the most repressive in the history of G8 Summits. While no one was killed in the name of security, as was the case at the 2001 meetings in Italy, the government denied visas to, detained, harassed and even deported activists thought to be critical of Japan’s climate policy and their allegiance to the World Bank.

The lengths to which the Japanese government was willing to go to silence dissenting voices revealed their unease at balancing hopes to bring something significant to the table with out actually committing to binding emissions targets or meaningful climate action.

G8 leaders’ seclusion at the Lake Toyako resort was symbolic of their larger isolation from global public opinion on fighting global warming. The posh lunch briefings and lavishly catered dinner discussions put an embarrassing spotlight on just how disconnected rich country governments are from the reality of those most affected by their policies.

Dangerous Inaction

In a communiqué issued on the second day of the meetings, the G8 repeated last year’s call for “the vision… of the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050.” Conspicuously missing from that statement was any mention of a baseline year from which greenhouse gases should be cut. Yvo de Boer, Head of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, likened this to running a marathon where “the starting line and the actual distance to be run is less clear” than the finish line. In an embarrassing slip of the tongue during his opening address, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda mentioned a 1990 baseline – a position the EU has been pushing for – only to take it back later vaguely saying cuts would be measured from “current levels.”

Also conspicuously missing was any admission by the G8 of their historical role in creating the climate crisis. The G5, a group of developing countries with fast-growing economies, urged industrialized country leaders to commit to 25% to 40% cuts below 1990 levels by 2020, saying that they would ramp up ongoing activities to fight climate change if G8 countries would step up to binding targets.

But the world’s wealthiest economies did not commit to making a higher level of climate commitments, instead asserting that the challenge of global warming “can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies.” The Chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, RK Pachuri, responded that wealthy nations “should get off the backs of India and China,” and stop using their economic growth as an excuse to do nothing.

Environmentalists claim that to avoid the most disastrous consequences of climate change, G8 countries have to commit to reducing emissions 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. And even that only secures a 50/50 chance that global temperatures will stay within a safe range.

Climate Injustice

What is even more sinister about the G8’s approach to combating climate change is that governments like the US, UK and Japan have tied financial aid to the World Bank – a global institution renowned for its environmentally and socially destructive practices.

G8 leaders’ pledge of $6 billion to the World Bank’s newly created Climate Investment Funds will do nothing to help the climate. Indeed, the World Bank’s effort to reinvent itself as the global crusader against climate change is a dangerous sham. With $2 billion already spent on coal, oil and gas projects this year, the World Bank is once again at the top of the list of the world’s largest multilateral financiers of greenhouse gas-emitting energy initiatives.

In the U.S. Congress, there has been strong criticism of a Bush Administration request for a $2 billion contribution to the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund because the fund has not ruled out supporting coal projects. And by refusing to define what “clean” actually means, and committing to staying “technology neutral,” the Bank has shown little evidence that its funds would promote renewable technologies or bring clean energy to the 1.6 billion people in the developing world still lacking access to electricity.

Besides funding dirty energy, the Bank proposes to use the carbon market, a scheme which allows rich countries to continue polluting at home while “outsourcing” their emissions cuts to poorer countries, to help developed countries meet their greenhouse gas targets. It is not surprising that the World Bank would encourage this approach. They collect a 13% overhead on all the carbon transactions they broker, a service which the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies estimates has earned the institution approximately $260 million. But the danger in relying on carbon trading to reach climate security is that without being linked to sturdy emissions caps, it essentially constitutes a blank check to polluting industries.

In a case of clear climate injustice, the World Bank has hooked access to the new funds on fiscal austerity and a commitment to low-carbon growth – conditions that the worst climate offenders never had to follow. In addition, funds for adaptation will be disbursed mainly in the form of loans, leaving those most affected by climate change, and least responsible, to foot the bill for rich country inaction. Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South argues that “[i]t is totally unjust that developing countries should be coerced to take out loans to deal with climate problems that they did not create.”

An Opening in the Impasse?

The G5 have said that they are “willing to increase the depth and range of [mitigation] actions supported and enabled by financing, technology and capacity building” from rich countries in order to stave off a business-as-usual future. But at climate talks in June, more than 130 developing nations issued a statement that any funds given to the World Bank will not count toward G8 nations’ obligations to deliver “measurable, reportable and verifiable” support. Only funds accountable to and under the authority of the United Nations will offer the incentive for all countries to sit down at the same table at global negotiations and consider binding emissions targets.

According to Meena Raman, Chair of Friends of the Earth International, if channeled through the World Bank, the “billions in taxpayers’ money would be used to push developing countries further into debt, undermine UN climate negotiations and threaten Indigenous Peoples’ land rights.”

While climate justice activists and developing country leaders pressure G8 governments to recognize the carbon debt they owe the world, global temperatures continue to rise, and the true security of all nations is undermined. Instead of sealing themselves off from critics in luxury hotels, rich country heads of state should welcome the creative solutions that civil society and developing country governments are offering to breach the climate impasse.

Janet Redman is co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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