Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Will he, won’t he? Climate change and the romantic fiction of global politics

It’s spring again, which in recent years seems to bring rapid extremes of temperature, from snow in Hyde Park to apple blossom in Snowdonia almost within a twenty-four hour period. And like the weather, our so-called world leaders are blowing hot and cold on fundamental issues such as human rights, freedom and the environment.

Looking forward to the summer, the Olympic Games in Beijing provide a classic opportunity for each to parade their own moral barometer. At the end of March, France’s president was
reported as the first premier who “hinted that he may boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games as Britain and France increased the pressure on China over Tibet”. France, of course, made the same threat last year when China’s role in the Sudanese oil business was condemned and China disregarded calls from G8 countries to exert influence on the Sudanese government over the conflict in Darfur.

So far, Bush is going, Merkel is not. Brown is apparently able to do both (boycott the beginning but attend at the end: a Scottish jig he used for the opening of the European Parliament). And the European Parliament, through a ‘
non-binding resolution’ has urged EU leaders not to attend.

They may dance the soft shoe shuffle or attempt the more flamboyant tango: after all, they’re just games. But when the G8 summit meet on the banks of
Lake Toya on the island of Hikkaido in northern Japan at the beginning of July, we can be sure that China will be there, invited as one of the ‘G8 plus 5 group’ because of her emerging role in the global economy - and there’ll be plenty of other rationalisations at the last minute to justify her inclusion.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has identified the environment as a key topic of discussion in Toyako. Climate change was also highlighted by the German government for Heiligendamm in 2007 - resulting in some vague pledges to agree to consider a time to discuss the topic again. As
GRIST argues, 'since the safe bet is on continued US interference with specific emissions reduction goals, there's little to lose by aiming for the same shot-down target as last year'.

Before last year’s summit, there was some fear that
strained relations between the US and Russia – caused by Putin’s cheeky little rocket launch - would blight reasonable debate. However, an unexpected thaw occurred, leading Merkel to pull off a great public relations victory, claiming success on climate change negotiations when in fact nothing concrete had been agreed.

See Robert Amsterdam's blogpost: A Valentine for Putin

Since then, Merkel has pushed forward carbon emission reduction regulations at home – excluding, of course, the heavy industries because of their importance to the German economy. In contrast, Brown and Sarkozy plan together to save the world’s energy crisis by developing the use of nuclear power; the UK plans to count its clean power projects overseas towards the EU mandated renewables targets; and the West’s stampede on bio-fuels has triggered a global food crisis, as predicted last year by social movements.

And one of the downsides of China’s economic boom is the astounding
environmental devastation that has come with it at home, not to mention the environment damage also associated with China’s march across Africa.

Downloadable from

Back in Hokkaido, Governor Harumi Takahashi has said she hopes the G8 will help resolve the longstanding territorial dispute with Russia over sovereignty of the Northern Territories: in fact president Putin and prime minister Yasua Fukuda have been meeting to discuss this.

Group composition moves on: last year Sarkozy was the new kid on the block, this year will be the first G8 summit for Gordon Brown and the recently elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

But I don’t imagine that this continual flux of cosying-up and the subsequent cold shoulder among our world leaders will ever be subject to real climate change. How can we ever believe what they say? Why do we even care any more? When we turn to the press, it so often seems as if there is in fact no real news, rather we’re caught up in a fictionalised narrative, which plays out in the present tense with no sense of historicity, nor cause and effect, although events continue to repeat and repeat themselves.

As with romantic fiction, this approach has become almost entirely
formulaic : but instead of dismissing it, we as readers also play an important role in perpetuating the genre.

One little known fact is that in 1983 I won third prize in the Women’s Hour / Woman’s Weekly Quest for a Romantic Novelist. So here’s another take on the news. It’s a little flight of fancy I jotted down last year in Berlin when I was covering the
2007 G8 summit from a women's perspective:

"Georgie came in with her natural flounce, bold, bumptious and brazen. She knew she was irresistible, but still there were those who resisted her. Vladimir stood at the window looking out into the night. There was something virile and aggressive in his slender frame and his arrogant stance.

‘Why don’t we settle this matter here and now?’ asked Georgie, taking his arm.

For an instant, Vladimir’s dark slavic
face softened. He was, in fact, incredibly attractive when he smiled. Georgie’s heart flipped over. Even as she succumbed, she knew that tomorrow things would look different. Another crisis, another man: she was incorrigible.

‘I’ll see you later,’ she drawled...”

Malcolm turned the page, dreamily reaching out for one of the tea-time sandwiches that nurse had left him. It was such stirring stuff. And now a new twist in the plot…

"...Nicole smiled across at Abe, their gaze entangling. ‘I think we may be quite similar in lots of ways,’ she murmured in her attractive French accent.

Abe watched her slink away. He was definitely interested. But he couldn't
help wondering if Nicole was only making up to him to make someone else jealous…"

Suddenly the door opened and Sister Theresa came into the room, creating a through-draft, which made the candles flicker. It was too late for Malcolm to hide what he was doing. He shrank back into his chair, clutching the book to his chest.

“Malcolm,” she said incensed, “Why are you doing this?” She swept an authoritative arm around to indicate the well-stacked feminist bookshelves. “After all the effort
I put in to provide improving literature for you, I still find you involved with this kind of …”

Malcolm tried to defend his position, but nurse was too strong for him. Wrenching the offending volume from his grasp, she threw it out of the open window.

told you before,” said Theresa. “Too much of that can make you go blind!”

Don’t read more, Take action
Anti-G8 action in Japan

Read a little more: The temperature in Berlin blog

Here below is another piece about the environment from this time last year, which I omitted to post. Plus cela change

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