Where is Honesty about Climate Change from Leaders of the G7?

On June 8, 2015 leaders of the G7 nations, including President Obama, released an official declaration about their commitment to mitigate climate change. This written declaration is disingenuous, naïve, or simply dishonest. Leaders of the Western world are disseminating false claims that the earth will warm no more than 2 °C.

(As background, the “group of seven nations,” G7, includes the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Russia was a member of the G8 but was suspended, and is not part of the G7.)

The leaders’ declaration claims that an agreement at the pending Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris late this year will “enable all countries to follow a low-carbon and resilient development pathway in line with the global goal to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C.” Yet this claim is completely at odds with the emission reduction targets identified in the declaration’s following paragraph.

The target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the declaration says, should be “40 to 70 percent reductions by 2050 compared to 2010” with an emphasis on “the upper end.” However, experts know and have clearly said that far greater reductions than 40 to 70 percent will be necessary to limit global warming to 2 °C. For example, Prof. Richard Somerville, a coordinating lead author for the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007), has used what he calls the “ski slope graph” to show politicians the choices available to keep global warming to 2 °C. If 2015 were to be the peak year of global GHG emissions (a big “if”), the world would then need to reduce emissions by 5.3% annually — an enormous task — which in turn would result in virtually eliminating all emissions by 2050.

Leaders of the G7 have dozens of world-class climate experts available to help them craft declarations like this one. The experts know better than to make such a false claim. As an example, when I asked one environmental expert in the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs yesterday what are the chances that global warming will be limited to 2 °C he immediately replied “zero.”

The emission reduction targets identified in the declaration are far too low even if they were to be adopted by every nation in the world. But of course the G7 does not include China (now the world’s number one source of greenhouse gas emissions), India, Russia, or Australia, all of which must make significant reductions in GHG emissions for any global mitigation plan to be effective.

Politicians sometimes feel they are well advised to shade the truth. However the biggest barrier to combating climate change is persuading humanity of the need to make rapid and significant changes in behavior before it is too late. Evading the hard truths about global warming may seem convenient for our political leaders, yet such evasion can be viewed as the essence of the enormous problem facing mankind.

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