Amid the rock stars and celebrities calling for an end to poverty this week, another major theme of the Group of Eight meeting in Scotland global warming has been sidelined.
Summit host Tony Blair plans to make climate change a key issue at the meeting. He’s hoping that a consensus can be reached that global warming is a threat to the future of the planet, and, importantly, that an agreement can be made between the G8 leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Thanks to Bill Leak at the Australian
George Bush is likely to be the stick in the mud. The only G8 leader to have refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, Bush said in an interview this week that he is looking for ways to move away from fossil fuels, but defended his decision not to ratify the protocol.
‘Kyoto would have wrecked our economy,’ he said, adding that if the G8 proposal on climate change ‘looks like Kyoto, the answer is no.’
Rather than setting emission limits, Bush has instead put his faith in ‘new technology’ to combat the problem of global warming, and in techniques such as capturing and storing carbon dioxide in underground wells.
Nuclear power, which has been touted as a ‘carbon-free’ clean energy alternative, is also likely to be put on the table.
As prominent British writer and activist George Monbiot has pointed out, nuclear power is not in fact a carbon-free energy source: mining uranium and building and decommissioning power stations all use oil, and concrete releases carbon dioxide as it sets. But nuclear power appears to be an attractive option in this age of climate change awareness because it doesn’t produce anywhere near as much carbon dioxide as the burning of fossil fuels.
‘Suddenly, climate change exists,’ writes Monbiot in the Guardian. ‘After years of ridicule, the greens’ jeremiads about declining oil production are now spilling from other people’s mouths. Politicians and the press have at last picked up our arguments, and are using them as a stick with which to beat us: if we care about climate change, if we care about future energy supplies, then surely we should support the revival of nuclear power?’
The problem with nuclear power, as many environmentalists have warned, is the challenge of safe and effective disposal.
Monbiot is the first to acknowledge that it may no longer be true to say that there is no safe means of disposing of nuclear waste: ‘I have just read a technical report produced by the Finnish nuclear authority Posiva which, to my untrained eye, looks pretty convincing,’ he writes. The key issue, however, is that ‘what can be done is not the same as what will be done,’ says Monbiot.
‘In September last year the Guardian revealed that British Nuclear Fuels has secretly buried 10 000 cubic metres of nuclear waste from other countries. This sort of thing goes on all the time. The UK Atomic Energy Authority used to chuck its waste into two open holes in the cliffs beside its power station at Dounreay. One of the shafts exploded in 1977, scattering plutonium over the beaches, but the authority didn’t bother to tell anyone for eighteen years,’ he continues.
The challenge of meeting the world’s future energy needs safely and effectively cannot be separated from the campaign to end poverty. The Australian Conservation Foundation wrote this week that ‘The G8’s efforts to tackle poverty in Africa will ultimately fail unless the G8 commits to serious action on climate change.’
A recent report forwarded by Archbishop Desmond Tutu also concludes that, ‘G8 nations have failed to join-the-dots between climate change and Africa. Unless addressed, this could condemn generations in the world’s poorest nations. The G8 summit can choose to act now, or see human development gains go up in smoke ‘
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