Joking around at the G8

George Bush prides himself on his sense of humor, so it should come as no surprise that he wrapped up a private meeting at this week’s G8 summit in Hokkaido with a joke. “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter,” he cheered, grinning broadly and punching the air. Those in attendance - including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French premier Nicolas Sarkozy - reportedly looked on in astonishment. “Everyone was very surprised that he was making a joke about America’s record on pollution,” said one official who attended the meeting.

Still, Bush wasn’t the only one clowning around at the conference. Sure, the developed countries agreed to new stronger-than-ever language committing them to cut global greenhouse emissions in half by 2050. The G8 leaders touted the move as “a significant step forward”. In fact, though, it was little more than a token shuffle: The new policy contains virtually nothing that wasn’t already present in the goals signed up to by more than 200 nations way back in 1992, at the UN’s first climate summit.

Besides failing to endorse emission cuts at the levels scientists say are needed to avert catastrophe, the G8 nations were hopelessly vague about how and when to take action, and refused to make any kind of binding commitment even to their own watered-down emissions targets. That led greens to dismiss the plan as “pathetic”; even the UK government’s own carbon-reduction agency blasted the G8 nations, saying the summit had failed to do “a single thing” to reduce carbon emissions, and accusing all concerned - including Prime Minister Brown - of “an abrogation of responsibility."

Most damningly of all, the G8 plan utterly failed to address the issue of how to divide up emissions cuts between industrialized and developing nations - the single most important question for any serious climate strategy. That led the big emerging economies - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa - to scoff at the conference, calling for the developed world to aim higher and cut emissions by more than 80 percent by mid-century.

The Hokkaido summit only served to underscore the G8’s increasing irrelevance: The leaders of the world’s biggest developed economies failed to provide any leadership, and had to be nudged by developing nations to live up to their international responsibilities. It’s clear, sadly, that Bush’s buffoonery was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the summit. The entire conference was a bad joke, and America’s outgoing president merely provided the punch-line.