No Real Environmental Change Without China, India, and Brazil

Simran Sethi, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Asia Society's Sustainability Roundtable, a regular feature on the re:ASIA blog, features insight and analysis on current events from our team of sustainability experts. This week, we asked our roundtable to reflect on last week's G8 summit, which took place May 26-27 in Deauville, France. How did the summit address issues such as nuclear safety, climate change and the ongoing bioenergy debate?

Simran Sethi is an award-winning journalist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she teaches courses on sustainability and environmental communications. She is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, winner of the bronze 2008 Axiom Award for Best Business Ethics book.

As a species, we have reached a critical crossroads. Our water is irradiated, our soil is used to grow plastic and fuel instead of food, and our planet continues to heat up. How do we make challenges that seem abstract to most, important to all?

That is the fundamental question the G8+5 needs to address in order to tackle climate change, improve energy infrastructure, and advance renewable alternatives including energy efficiency (our least expensive and most accessible energy resource). I include the Outreach Five with the G8 because no substantive environmental change can occur without the support of China, India, and Brazil.

Energy is at the heart of everything — our food, our industry, our lives — yet most of us have little understanding of where our energy comes from, how it is sourced, and how it impacts our communities. According to estimates from the International Energy Agency, carbon dioxide emissions reached a new high in 2010, climbing to a record 30.6 gigatonnes (a 5 percent jump from the previous record set in 2008).

Climate change is no longer unavoidable. In an era where science is conflated with politics, it is imperative that people have access to information that enables them to make informed decisions and demand change from the people charged to represent them. The G8+5 must prioritize the efforts of the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (founded in 2008 by the G8, China, India, South Korea and the European Community) in order to educate the public and design behavioral interventions that help people forge personal connections with their energy consumption and make the impacts of consumption tangible.

Climate change knows no boundaries, yet is it important to remember the increase in CO2 emissions is not, simply, the result of growth in the global South. According to IEA estimates, "On a per capita basis, OECD countries collectively emitted 10 tonnes (of carbon dioxide), compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India." This disparity must be addressed. The G8+5 and IPEEC must continue to fund renewable energy efforts and develop market-based energy efficiency trading regimes that level the playing field for all participants. India's mandatory Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) scheme is one innovative example that advances safe, smart energy alternatives, and the possibility of a sustainable future for all.

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About the Author

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Simran Sethi is a journalist and academic who teaches and reports on sustainability, environmentalism and social media for social change. She is an Asia Society Associate Fellow.