Festina lente – hurry slowly.
After a lot of pre-conference posturing and sabre-rattling, Angela Merkel the German Chancellor and G8 president announced that the agreements on climate change were "the most important decision for the coming two years."
It really all depends where you’re coming from. Arguably the situation is better than it was before the conference. The United States will “strongly consider” ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050. George Bush has said that the US will take a lead on meeting the climate change challenge and appears to agree with the Europeans that the United Nations and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) are central to the process.
Hurry? Well they hope to have something in place by 2009 to replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. Some people would argue that targets for 2050 are all very well, but if we don’t make real changes within five or ten years, then climate change will be out of control. (The same lack of urgency is written into Britain’s Climate Change Bill, by the way. Progress will be reviewed once every five years. Do you know of any project, business, public authority which can get away with reporting less than once a year? And the climate is an immediate and crucial issue!)
Going back to G8. Few commentators are happy with the outcome because it is so full of caveats and maybes. Fifty percent of what? Fifty percent of 1990 levels is more than 50% of current levels. The UK and Europe were aiming at 60% of 1990 levels; the US is proposing 50% of current levels. The climate is uncompromising. We need what the climate needs. George Bush is largely uncompromising: China and India as the two largest developing nations must come to the table and commit to cuts. No matter that emissions in the US are six times per head what they are in China. George Bush will not accept actions which put the US economy at a disadvantage. And "strongly consider" achieves nothing. Somebody has to act. Plenty of room for negotiation – some would say for delay.
Of course everyone admits that it’s urgent, but no-one in power seems ready to take urgent action.
Lente is just not in it. Festina, festina, before it’s too late!