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Captain Planet Wakes

So, the G-8 is having its annual hog roast in Japan this week. It seems to be an event almost duty-bound to foster prickly confrontations. Will freshmen Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy try to impress the machismo-inducing Angela Merkel? Will the resurrected Silvio Berlusconi be re-initiated with a sound paddling? How will Dmitri Medvedev's soul fare under W's steely gaze? Etc.

A more important concern for those watching the strange social experiment is climate change. Not that we should be holding our breath for the G-8. It's been a subject of peripatetic interest to the major industrial nations for years. In 2001, Bush arrived in Genoa for his first summit determined to jettison Kyoto, and has since blustered annually on binding agreements to cut greenhouse gases. When Americans hosted the summit in 2004, we didn't even put climate change on the agenda. (Unsurprising for a president who's claimed "there's no such thing as being too closely aligned with the oil business.") Tony Blair and Angela Merkel got the energy crisis back on the table in 2005 and 2007, and, for their part, the Japanese have placed it front and center once more in 2008.

Discussions are apparently treating environmental concerns in interdisciplinary fashion--appropriately enough, given this shocking new Guardian scoop on the role of biofuel advocacy in the food crisis. The first goal, of course, is resolving the game of chicken between developing nations and the equally stubborn United States on emissions. YaleEnviro360 rounds it up:

The EU and environmental groups pressed the U.S. to commit to a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Arguing that the “50 by 50” goal and a midterm target for 2020 are essential for global cooperation, advocates pointed out that China and India have refused to set emission-reduction goals until developed countries, especially the U.S., do so first. However, President Bush has refused to set explicit numeric goals unless developing nations make binding commitments of their own…. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said if G8 nations agree on a 50 percent reduction target, “then we are in a much better position for discussions with our Chinese partners and others.”

And round and round. Apparently, no one wants to hokey pokey at the G-8--even when it's for face-saving baby cuts that have ecologically negligible impact.

But the quest for catholic action may find another outlet: Last week, the World Bank decided to establish "two investment funds to help developing economies switch to clean-energy technologies to curb carbon emissions and help poor countries adapt to climate change. The so-called "Clean Technology Fund" and "Strategic Climate Fund" are pretty darn good news for those who'd prefer to take on the demand side of our energy crisis via investment, and despite the big problems with the cash-only approach, the funds are likely to get across-the-board backing from the G-8. Already, Britain, Japan and--oho!--the US are in for the $4 to $5 billion required to get the gears turning.

So maybe good old crony capitalism is the optimal means of collective energy action. It seems that even the Mean Girls of the G-8 can agree that clean tech is worth having--perhaps because it's so profitable when taken to scale. (Watch Russia though--petrostates tend not to care who your momma is; and the World Bank has its own well-documented inefficiencies.) It’s at least the smartest way to break the procedural stalemate, and to share best practices on energy efficiency and clean technology across the public and private sector. With our dollars/yen/euros combined…

--Dayo Olopade

(cross-posted on the Plank, which is chock full of horses racing.)