The globe's most powerful leaders from the Earth's richest nations are meeting this week on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, and they'll be discussing global warming, the food crisis and the extraordinary rise in energy prices.
The three issues, which put at risk billions of the world's poor and affect the wallets of just about every other person on Earth, are interconnected, as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has repeatedly said.
Just a snapshot of the complexity: Climate change will decrease the world's ability to feed itself by damaging existing farmland. High energy prices makes even food staples more expensive. Burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, but while switching to biofuels might decrease demand for expensive oil, it takes land out of food production.
Meanwhile, European leaders and environmental advocates are waging a nearly hopeless campaign to convince President Bush to agree to what he has repeatedly rejected: A goal of cutting carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050.
Meanwhile, the ravages of global warming are evident right here in the homeland: Scientists have said increased wildfire activity is among the results of climate change they are most confident will occur. The raging wildfires now burning across the U.S. can't be said to be linked directly to global warming, but research has already determined that record-setting fire activity in recent years can be attributed to climate change. The bill is rising, and the overall cost of natural disasters worldwide has repeatedly climbed to record levels in recent years, amid warnings from insurers that climate change is to blame.
So the world's most powerful leaders from the Earth's richest nations will meet to discuss these interconnected issues. Yet commentators seem to expect little from the meeting. Why?
In part, because this is nothing new. As James Connaughton, chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality put it, "I think with one exception, climate change has been a main topic of the G8 for the last six or seven years." He meant it as a good thing, but the rest of us see that as a reminder of how little has resulted from past meetings.
In part, because the leaders of other nations are looking past the lame duck U.S. president. In part, because Japan's president, who is championing the cause of global warming at this G8 meeting, is weak in his own country. Global warming will likely get less attention because the cost of food and fuel has overtaken it as the issue of most immediate importance.
Here's what Connaughton said we could expect from the meeting:
A Bush proposal to set up a new clean energy technology fund.
Improving individual nations' energy efficiency and conservation.
A statement of some kind about how G8 leaders view the U.N.'s ongoing discussions about tackling climate change.
It remains to be seen whether any progress is made on moving the world toward a global framework for addressing global warming. And it remains to be seen whether or not the most important long-term issue facing the world will get buried under shorter-term concerns. Leaders, after all, are supposed to plan for the future ... Aren't they?
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